The Optimal Amount of Visuals Promotes Children’s Comprehension and Attention: An Eye Tracking Study
This preregistered study examined whether extraneous illustration details promote attentional competition and hinder reading comprehension in beginning readers. Reading comprehension was highest in the Streamlined Condition (text + relevant illustrations) compared to a Standard Condition (text + relevant illustrations + extraneous illustrations) and Text Only Condition (no illustrations). Gaze shifts away from the text were highest in the Standard Condition, indicating increased distractibility while reading text with extraneous illustration details. Gaze shifts away from the text were associated with performance on an independent measure of attention, validating eye gaze patterns as an assessment of attentional allocation while reading. Lower comprehension in the Standard Condition was associated with higher gaze shifts away from text and lower scores on the independent measure of selective attention. This study suggests that illustrations can support reading comprehension, but only when they are optimally designed. Importantly, the removal of extraneous details did not decrease book enjoyment.