The present work aims at demonstrating that visual training associated with the act of reading modifies the way we perceive printed words. As reading does not train all parts of the retina in the same way but favors regions on the side in the direction of scanning, visual word recognition should be better at retinal locations that are frequently used during reading. In two studies that probed word and letter discriminations we provided evidence for a correlation between eye fixation pattern during reading and performance. We showed that effects of reading-related visual training were stimulus-specific in the sense that it affected the perception of words but not that of visually unfamiliar non-words. This stimulus specificity was also evident in the legibility of individual characters of the Roman and the Hebrew scripts - two scripts that are read in opposing directions. When displayed within a sequence of homogenous letters (e.g., xxexx) the legibility of a target character varied with the location of the sequence in the visual field and with the serial position of the target within the sequence. This retinal location- and context-dependency differed between Roman and Hebrew characters. These results seem to indicate that reading modifies the functional structure of early stages in the visual pathway. The cortical network that supports reading seems to comprise components of the visual cortex of both hemispheres before it lateralizes to the left hemisphere. Expanding the reading network to include these visual regions will shed a different light on the potential role of the visual word form area (e.g., Cohen et al., 2000) in word recognition and on the organization of the reading system in general.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The research reported in this article was supported by a grant from the French-Israeli Association for Scientific Research and Technology (AFIRST) and by the French Ministry of Science (LACO 28) to T.A.N., R.F., and A.D. Part of the results was presented at the annual meeting of the Psychonomic Society in New Orleans (1999).
- Perceptual learning
- Scanning direction
- Visual fields
- Visual word form area