What's left? An eye movement study of the influence of interword spaces to the left of fixation during reading
journal contributionposted on 2014-09-11, 09:19 authored by Timothy R. Jordan, Victoria A. McGowan, Kevin B. Paterson
In English and other alphabetic systems read from left to right, the useful information acquired during each fixational pause is generally reported to extend 14-15 character spaces to the right of each fixation, but only 3-4 character spaces to the left, and certainly no farther than the beginning of the fixated word. However, this leftward extent is remarkably small and seems inconsistent with the general bilateral symmetry of vision. Accordingly, in the present study we investigated the influence of a fundamental component of text to the left of fixation-interword spaces-using a well-established eyetracking paradigm in which invisible boundaries were set up along individual sentence displays that were then read. Each boundary corresponded to the leftmost edge of a word in a sentence, so that as the eyes crossed a boundary, interword spaces in the text to the left of that word were obscured (by inserting a letter x). The proximity of the obscured text during each fixational pause was maintained at one, two, three, or four interword spaces from the left boundary of each fixated word. Normal fixations, regressions, and progressive saccades were disrupted when the obscured text was up to three interword spaces (an average of over 12 character spaces) away from the fixated word, while four interword spaces away produced no disruption. These findings suggest that influential information from text is acquired during each fixational pause from much farther leftward than is generally realized and that this information contributes to normal reading performance. Implications of these findings for reading are discussed.