Eyes lock on different letters when reading

Eyes lock on different letters when reading

By Michael Kahn / Reuters
Sun Sep 9, 7:14 PM ET

When we read our eyes lock on to different
letters in the same word instead of scanning a page smoothly
from left to right as previously thought, researchers said on
Monday.

Using sophisticated eye tracking equipment, the team looked
at letters within a word and found that people combined parts
of a word that were on average two letters apart, said Simon
Liversedge, a cognitive psychologist at the University of
Southampton.

The findings could lead to better methods of teaching
children to read and offer remedial treatments for those with
reading disorders such as dyslexia, said Liversedge, who
presented his work at a meeting organized by the British
Association for the Advancement of Science.

"What I’m trying to understand is the relationship between
the physiological processes that underpin human written
language comprehension and their relationship with eye
movements people make to read sentences," he said in a
telephone interview.

Over the past 40 years scientists have studied eye
movements and reading, with a general consensus that people
look at the same letter within a word with both eyes,
Liversedge said.

To test this, Liversedge and colleagues measured the
reflections of a low-intensity infrared beam shone into a
volunteer’s eye when reading. This allowed the researchers to
pinpoint exactly where the eye had fixated on a word.

Then they ran further tests to see why people did not have
double vision from picking out individual letters and found
that the brain fuses the two signals that come in from the
different eyes into one clear image, Liversedge said.

"It had always been assumed that both eyes moved in perfect
harmony and you looked at a word with just one fixation," he
said. "Because of this assumption scientists looking at reading
behavior have just measured one of the eyes because they
assumed the eyes were doing the same thing."

The findings also add to a wealth of information about eye
movements that scientists have built up over the years as they
seek a better grasp of how we understand written language,
Liversedge said.

They also help paint an overall picture of language
comprehension that can one day benefit those with reading
problems and disorders, he added.

"In order to fully understand what is going wrong in people
with reading difficulties, we first need to understand what is
involved in normal language comprehension," he said.

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