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Fillers and spaces in text: the importance of word recognition during reading


Epelboim JJ , Booth JRJ R , Ashkenazy RR , Taleghani AA , Steinman RMR M . Vision research. 1997 ; 37(20). 2899-914


Current theories of reading eye movements claim that reading saccades are programmed primarily on the basis of information about the length of the upcoming word, determined by low-level visual processes that detect spaces to the right of fixation. Many studies attempted to test this claim by filling spaces between words with various non-space symbols (fillers). This manipulation, however, confounds the effect of inserting extraneous characters into text with the effect of obscuring word boundaries by filling spaces. We performed the control conditions necessary to unconfound these effects. Skilled readers read continuous stories aloud and silently. Three factors were varied: (i) position of the fillers in the text (at the beginning, the end, or surrounding each word); (ii) the presence or absence of spaces in the text; and (iii) the effect of the type of filler on word recognition (from greatest effect to least effect: Latin letters, Greek letters, digits and shaded boxes). The effect of fillers on reading depended more on the type of filler than on the presence of spaces. The greater effect the fillers had on word recognition, the more they showed reading. Surrounding each word with digits or Greek letters slowed reading as much as filling spaces with these symbols. Surrounding each word with randomly chosen letters, while preserving spaces, slowed reading by 44-75%–as much as, or more than, removing spaces from normal text. Removing spaces from text with Latin-letter fillers slowed reading by only 10-20% more. We conclude that fillers in text disrupt reading by affecting word recognition directly, without necessarily affecting the eye movement pattern.