Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Effects of Parafoveal Word Length and Orthographic Features on Initial Fixation Landing Positions in Reading

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Effects of Parafoveal Word Length and Orthographic Features on Initial Fixation Landing Positions in Reading

Article excerpt

Published online: 3 March 2012

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2012

Abstract Previous research has demonstrated that readers use word length and word boundary information in targeting saccades into upcoming words while reading. Previous studies have also revealed that the initial landing positions for fixations on words are affected by parafoveal processing. In the present study, we examined the effects of word length and orthographic legality on targeting saccades into parafoveal words. Long (8-9 letters) and short (4-5 letters) target words, which were matched on lexical frequency and initial letter trigram, were paired and embedded into identical sentence frames. The gaze-contingent boundary paradigm (Rayner, 1975) was used to manipulate the parafoveal information available to the reader before direct fixation on the target word. The parafoveal preview was either identical to the target word or was a visually similar nonword. The nonword previews contained orthographically legal or orthographically illegal initial letters. The results showed that orthographic preprocessing of the word to the right of fixation affected eye movement targeting, regardless of word length. Additionally, the lexical status of an upcoming saccade target in the parafovea generally did not influence preprocessing.

Keywords Eye movements . Reading . Orthography . Word perception

For skilled readers, the act of extracting meaning from text seems simple, if not completely effortless. However, this impression belies the complexity of the necessary coordination of perception, attention, motor control, and language processing. A comprehensive understanding of eye movement behavior during reading has the potential to elucidate broad aspects of human cognition. Determining what factors influence when and where the eyes move is crucial for understanding written language processing. Despite over a century of research and several decades of investigation using extremely sophisticated instruments and measurements, there is still some contention about what influences the most basic temporal and spatial characteristics of eye movement behavior during reading. In the present study, we further investigated the factors that influence where the eyes go once the decision to move is made. Research on the spatial characteristics of eye movement behavior has the potential to further illuminate the nature of the eye movement targeting system and the constraints imposed on this system during normal reading.

Readers acquire information during fixations, or periods when the eyes are relatively still (Rayner, 1998, 2009). It is important to note that high-spatial-frequency information, such as letters and words, is easily identified in the foveal region. In the region beyond the fovea, the parafovea, because of steep degradation of visual acuity, word and letter information can be extracted, but with greatly reduced efficiency (Schotter, Angele, & Rayner, 2012). Outside the parafovea, in the peripheral region of the visual field, only low-spatial-frequency information such as word boundary and length information can be extracted. This limits the letter or word identification span (Rayner, Well, Pollatsek, & Bertera, 1982; Underwood & McConkie, 1985) for skilled readers to a maximum of about eight letter spaces to the right of fixation. Due to the constraints imposed by visual-acuity limitations, the oculomotor system must plan and execute ballistic eye movements, or saccades, directed to fairly precise locations in text in order to obtain new information or to resample old information. Bringing regions of text into the foveal region of the visual field allows readers to reliably identify letters and words. Information specific to local areas of text is extracted from the extrafoveal regions and is utilized during eye movement targeting processes. The mechanisms responsible for targeting the location of the next fixation in text have been found to show sensitivity to various kinds of information. …

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