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      Wider Letter-Spacing Facilitates Word Processing but Impairs Reading Rates of Fast Readers

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          Abstract

          Previous reports of improved oral reading performance for dyslexic children but not for regular readers when between-letter spacing was enlarged led to the proposal of a dyslexia-specific deficit in visual crowding. However, it is in this context also critical to understand how letter spacing affects visual word recognition and reading in unimpaired readers. Adopting an individual differences approach, the present study, accordingly, examined whether wider letter spacing improves reading performance also for non-impaired adults during silent reading and whether there is an association between letter spacing and crowding sensitivity. We report eye movement data of 24 German students who silently read texts presented either with normal or wider letter spacing. Foveal and parafoveal crowding sensitivity were estimated using two independent tests. Wider spacing reduced first fixation durations, gaze durations, and total fixation time for all participants, with slower readers showing stronger effects. However, wider letter spacing also reduced skipping probabilities and elicited more fixations, especially for faster readers. In terms of words read per minute, wider letter spacing did not provide a benefit, and faster readers in particular were slowed down. Neither foveal nor parafoveal crowding sensitivity correlated with the observed letter-spacing effects. In conclusion, wide letter spacing reduces single word processing time in typically developed readers during silent reading, but affects reading rates negatively since more words must be fixated. We tentatively propose that wider letter spacing reinforces serial letter processing in slower readers, but disrupts parallel processing of letter chunks in faster readers. These effects of letter spacing do not seem to be mediated by individual differences in crowding sensitivity.

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          Most cited references 42

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          DRC: A dual route cascaded model of visual word recognition and reading aloud.

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            Interaction effects in parafoveal letter recognition.

             W. H. Bouma (1970)
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              Parafoveal processing in reading.

              The present review summarizes research investigating how words are identified parafoveally (and foveally) in reading. Parafoveal and foveal processing are compared when no other concurrent task is required (e.g., in single-word recognition tasks) and when both are required simultaneously (e.g., during reading). We first review methodologies used to study parafoveal processing (e.g., corpus analyses and experimental manipulations, including gaze-contingent display change experiments such as the boundary, moving window, moving mask, and fast priming paradigms). We then turn to a discussion of the levels of representation at which words are processed (e.g., orthographic, phonological, morphological, lexical, syntactic, and semantic). Next, we review relevant research regarding parafoveal processing, summarizing the extent to which words are processed at each of those levels of representation. We then review some of the most controversial aspects of parafoveal processing, as they relate to reading: (1) word skipping, (2) parafoveal-on-foveal effects, and (3) n + 1 and n + 2 preview benefit effects. Finally, we summarize two of the most advanced models of eye movements during reading and how they address foveal and parafoveal processing.
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Journal
                Front Psychol
                Front Psychol
                Front. Psychol.
                Frontiers in Psychology
                Frontiers Media S.A.
                1664-1078
                17 March 2020
                2020
                : 11
                Affiliations
                1Department of Psychology, Goethe University Frankfurt , Frankfurt am Main, Germany
                2Center for Research on Individual Development and Adaptive Education of Children at Risk (IDeA) , Frankfurt am Main, Germany
                3Brain Imaging Center, Goethe University Frankfurt , Frankfurt am Main, Germany
                Author notes

                Edited by: Manuel Perea, University of Valencia, Spain

                Reviewed by: Pablo Gomez, DePaul University, United States; Pierluigi Zoccolotti, Sapienza University of Rome, Italy

                This article was submitted to Language Sciences, a section of the journal Frontiers in Psychology

                Article
                10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00444
                7090332
                Copyright © 2020 Korinth, Gerstenberger and Fiebach.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

                Page count
                Figures: 6, Tables: 5, Equations: 0, References: 49, Pages: 17, Words: 0
                Funding
                Funded by: Seventh Framework Programme 10.13039/100011102
                Award ID: 291776
                Funded by: European Research Council 10.13039/501100000781
                Award ID: 617891
                Categories
                Psychology
                Original Research

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