Frömer, R., Dimigen, O., Niefind, F., Krause, N., Kliegl, R., & Sommer, W. (2015). Are individual differences in reading speed related to extrafoveal visual acuity and crowding? PLoS ONE.
Abstract. Readers differ considerably in their speed of self-paced reading. One factor known to influence fixation durations in reading is the preprocessing of words in parafoveal vision. Here we investigated whether individual differences in reading speed or the amount of information extracted from upcoming words (the preview benefit) can be explained by basic differences in extrafoveal vision – i.e. the ability to recognize peripheral letters with or without the presence of flanking letters. Forty participants were given an adaptive test to determine their eccentricity thresholds for the identification of letters presented either in isolation (extrafoveal acuity) or flanked by other letters (crowded letter recognition). In a separate eye-tracking experiment, the same participants read lists of words from left to right, while the preview of the upcoming words was manipulated with the gaze-contingent moving window technique. Relationships between dependent measures were analyzed on the observational level and with linear mixed models. We obtained highly reliable estimates both for extrafoveal letter identification (acuity and crowding) and measures of reading speed (overall reading speed, size of preview benefit). Reading speed was higher in participants with larger uncrowded windows. However, the strength of this relationship was moderate and it was only observed if other sources of variance in reading speed (e.g. the occurrence of regressive saccades) were eliminated. Moreover, the size of the preview benefit – an important factor in normal reading – was larger in participants with better extrafoveal acuity. Together, these results indicate a significant albeit moderate contribution of extrafoveal vision to individual differences in reading speed.