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The mechanism of word crowding


Word reading speed in peripheral vision is slower when words are in close proximity of other words (Chung, 2004). This word crowding effect could arise as a consequence of interaction of low-level letter features between words, or the interaction between high-level holistic representations of words. We evaluated these two hypotheses by examining how word crowding changes for five configurations of flanking words: the control condition - flanking words were oriented upright; scrambled - letters in each flanking word were scrambled in order; horizontal-flip - each flanking word was the left-right mirror-image of the original; letter-flip - each letter of the flanking word was the left-right mirror-image of the original; and vertical-flip - each flanking word was the up-down mirror-image of the original. The low-level letter feature interaction hypothesis predicts similar word crowding effect for all the different flanker configurations, while the high-level holistic representation hypothesis predicts less word crowding effect for all the alternative flanker conditions, compared with the control condition. We found that oral reading speed for words flanked above and below by other words, measured at 10° eccentricity in the nasal field, showed the same dependence on the vertical separation between the target and its flanking words, for the various flanker configurations. The result was also similar when we rotated the flanking words by 90° to disrupt the periodic vertical pattern, which presumably is the main structure in words. The remarkably similar word crowding effect irrespective of the flanker configurations suggests that word crowding arises as a consequence of interactions of low-level letter features.

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