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Recognition units in reading: backward masking experiments

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image of Spatial Vision
For more content, see Multisensory Research and Seeing and Perceiving.

In three experiments, the rate of acquisition of information from a visual display was measured, using Sperling's method of backward masking (Sperling, 1963). Experiment I (which included a control for letter redundancy) showed that the rate of acquisition from an array of letters or words is determined not by the number of visual features or letters to be processed, but by the number of names into which they are to be encoded. In a second, control experiment, no effect was found on acquisition rate of restricting the letter ensemble-size. The third experiment showed that the time needed to identify words of the same frequency of occurrence was identical for words of three or six letters and of one or two syllables. The results are contrasted with those obtained in RT and comparison tasks. They are interpreted as evidence that (1) the backward masking paradigm provides a direct measure of word identification latency; (2) visually presented words are processed as wholes: that is, prior to word identification there is no intermediate stage of representation — not subject to backward masking — in units (e.g., syllables, spelling patterns) smaller than a complete word; (3) words are initially represented in an abstract lexical code, which does not reflect either visual or motor attributes of the word name.

Affiliations: 1: University of Reading, UK


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