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Hum Factors. 2006 Summer;48(2):229-40.

Reading in the dark: effects of age and contrast on reading speed and comprehension.

Author information

1
School of Psychology, Georgia Institute of Technology, J.S. Coon Building, 654 Cherry St., Atlanta, GA 30332-0170, USA. tracy.mitzner@psych.gatech.edu

Abstract

OBJECTIVE:

To explore the effects of contrast reduction on younger and older adults' reading behavior and to examine whether readers rely on word predictability to compensate for poor contrast.

BACKGROUND:

Poor contrast can degrade text and may influence reading behavior. Readers may compensate for visual degradation of text by taking advantage of word predictability.

METHOD:

In Experiment 1, 5 younger and 5 older adults read sentences presented with 10 levels of contrast. In Experiment 2, 40 younger and 40 older adults read high-, medium-, and low-contrast sentences that varied in target word predictability (high vs. low).

RESULTS:

Relative to those of younger adults, older adults' reading rates were more slowed by low contrast; comprehension was less influenced by contrast (i.e., not significantly). Older adults read high-predictability words faster and comprehended them better than low-predictability words, significantly so for high- and medium-contrast sentences. Younger adults comprehended high-predictability words significantly better than low-predictability words for high- and low-contrast sentences.

CONCLUSION:

Low contrast was more detrimental for older adults. High-predictability words benefited older adults by significantly reducing their reading times and benefited all readers by significantly increasing their comprehension.

APPLICATION:

The current findings demonstrate the benefit of adequate contrast and word predictability for optimal text design to facilitate both reading times and reading comprehension.

PMID:
16884045
DOI:
10.1518/001872006777724372
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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