Subtle increases in interletter spacing facilitate the encoding of words during normal reading

Chris Dean's picture

Perea, M. & Gomez, P. (2012) Subtle increases in interletter spacing facilitate the encoding of words during normal reading.PLoS ONE 7(10): e47568. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047568

— They only measured eye movements. No comprehension accuracy. Disappointing. However, it’s data does point towards possibly refuting the significance one of our oldest adages: “Any man who would letterspace blackletter would steal sheep.” ~Goudy, F. (1936).

Background
Several recent studies have revealed that words presented with a small increase in interletter spacing are identified faster than words presented with the default interletter spacing (i.e., w a t e r faster than water). Modeling work has shown that this advantage occurs at an early encoding level. Given the implications of this finding for the ease of reading in the new digital era, here we examined whether the beneficial effect of small increases in interletter spacing can be generalized to a normal reading situation.

Methodology
We conducted an experiment in which the participant’s eyes were monitored when reading sentences varying in interletter spacing: i) sentences were presented with the default (0.0) interletter spacing; ii) sentences presented with a +1.0 interletter spacing; and iii) sentences presented with a +1.5 interletter spacing.

Principal findings
Results showed shorter fixation duration times as an inverse function of interletter spacing (i.e., fixation durations were briefest with +1.5 spacing and slowest with the default spacing).

Conclusions
Subtle increases in interletter spacing facilitate the encoding of the fixated word during normal reading. Thus, interletter spacing is a parameter that may affect the ease of reading, and it could be adjustable in future implementations of e-book readers.

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.00475...

hrant's picture

Yet more proof that the fovea plays the smaller part in immersive reading!

hhp

quadibloc's picture

Of course, if the increases are smaller than 1/288", or a quarter of a point, they're smaller than conventional letterspacing.

And in blackletter, of course, you had to letterspace lower-case, because they didn't use italics.

Nick Shinn's picture

Subtle increases in interletter spacing facilitate the encoding of the fixated
word during normal reading.

Subtle?

But quite apart from this, isn’t there something about the results that struck the researchers as odd, that they might have considered addressing?

How could typographers have been so terribly wrong, for centuries, in providing text so far removed from optimal encoding?

froo's picture

"Give me an average monitor and I'll prove everything". They created bad reading conditions and draw general conclusions from them.

Renaissance Man's picture

If you think interletter spacing (how is that different from letter spacing?) is bad...

Chinese university beauty pageant organizers mandate contestants' nipples be at least 7.8 inches apart

http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/chinese-university-beauty-p...

enne_son's picture

[Perea and Gomez] “However, the story is more complex. Increases in interletter spacing were also accompanied by more fixations and shorter saccade lengths (in number of characters), especially in the +1.5 condition.”

hrant's picture

Because bouma formation deeper into the parafovea is inhibited.

hhp

enne_son's picture

The authors, Manuel Perea and Pablo Gomez provide their explanation on page 5 of their text, just after the sentence I quoted, and down to the bottom of the first column of text on that page. In this section, difficulties in integrating the word as a whole when the spacing was somewhat large, are mentioned. I am guessing the authors mean: in what Pelli and Legge call the uncrowded window, though this isn’t clear. But a change in the parafoveal preview benefit isn’t ruled out.

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