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Vision Res. 2001 Mar;41(6):725-43.

Psychophysics of reading. XX. Linking letter recognition to reading speed in central and peripheral vision.

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Minnesota Laboratory for Low-Vision Research, University of Minnesota, 75 East River Rd, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA.


Our goal is to link spatial and temporal properties of letter recognition to reading speed for text viewed centrally or in peripheral vision. We propose that the size of the visual span - the number of letters recognizable in a glance - imposes a fundamental limit on reading speed, and that shrinkage of the visual span in peripheral vision accounts for slower peripheral reading. In Experiment 1, we estimated the size of the visual span in the lower visual field by measuring RSVP (rapid serial visual presentation) reading times as a function of word length. The size of the visual span decreased from at least 10 letters in central vision to 1.7 letters at 15 degrees eccentricity, in good agreement with the corresponding reduction of reading speed measured by Chung and coworkers (Chung, S. T. L., Mansfield, J. S., & Legge, G. E. (1998). Psychophysics of reading. XVIII. The effect of print size on reading speed in normal peripheral vision. Vision Research, 38, 2949-2962). In Exp. 2, we measured letter recognition for trigrams (random strings of three letters) as a function of their position on horizontal lines passing through fixation (central vision) or displaced downward into the lower visual field (5, 10 and 20 degrees ). We also varied trigram presentation time. We used these data to construct visual-span profiles of letter accuracy versus letter position. These profiles were used as input to a parameter-free model whose output was RSVP reading speed. A version of this model containing a simple lexical-matching rule accounted for RSVP reading speed in central vision. Failure of this version of the model in peripheral vision indicated that people rely more on lexical inference to support peripheral reading. We conclude that spatiotemporal characteristics of the visual span limit RSVP reading speed in central vision, and that shrinkage of the visual span results in slower reading in peripheral vision.

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