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J Exp Psychol Gen. 2009 Aug;138(3):416-31. doi: 10.1037/a0015836.

When writing impairs reading: letter perception's susceptibility to motor interference.

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Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University, IN 47405, USA.


The effect of writing on the concurrent visual perception of letters was investigated in a series of studies using an interference paradigm. Participants drew shapes and letters while simultaneously visually identifying letters and shapes embedded in noise. Experiments 1-3 demonstrated that letter perception, but not the perception of shapes, was affected by motor interference. This suggests a strong link between the perception of letters and the neural substrates engaged during writing. The overlap both in category (letter vs. shape) and in the perceptual similarity of the features (straight vs. curvy) of the seen and drawn items determined the amount of interference. Experiment 4 demonstrated that intentional production of letters is not necessary for the interference to occur, because passive movement of the hand in the shape of letters also interfered with letter perception. When passive movements were used, however, only the category of the drawn items (letters vs. shapes), but not the perceptual similarity, had an influence, suggesting that motor representations for letters may selectively influence visual perception of letters through proprioceptive feedback, with an additional influence of perceptual similarity that depends on motor programs.

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