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Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2002 Apr;43(4):1270-6.

The effect of letter spacing on reading speed in central and peripheral vision.

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School of Optometry, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana 47405, USA.



Crowding, the adverse spatial interaction due to proximity of adjacent letters, has been suggested as an explanation for slow reading in peripheral vision. The purpose of this study was to examine whether reading speed can be improved in normal peripheral vision by increasing the letter spacing. Also tested was whether letter spacing imposes a different limit on reading speed of small versus large print.


Six normal observers read aloud single, short sentences presented on a computer monitor, one word at a time, by rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP). Reading speeds were calculated based on the RSVP exposure durations yielding 80% correctly read words. Letters were rendered in Courier, a fixed-width font. Testing was conducted at the fovea, 5 degrees and 10 degrees in the inferior visual field. The critical print size (CPS) was first determined for each observer by measuring reading speeds for four print sizes, using the standard letter spacing (center-to-center separation of adjacent letters; standard Courier spacing: 1.16 times the width of the lowercase x). Text was then presented at 0.8 x or 1.5x CPS, and reading speed was measured for five letter spacings, ranging from 0.5 times to 2 times the standard spacing.


As expected, reading speed was highest at the fovea, decreased with eccentricity, and was faster for the larger print size. At all eccentricities and for both print sizes, reading speed increased with letter spacing, up to a critical letter spacing, and then either remained constant at the same reading speed or decreased slightly for larger letter spacings. The value of the critical letter spacing was very close to the standard letter spacing and did not depend on eccentricity or print size.


Increased letter spacing beyond the standard size, which presumably decreases the adverse effect of crowding, does not lead to an increase in reading speed in central or peripheral vision.

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