Comparing the visual spans for faces and letters

Yingchen He, Jennifer M. Scholz, Rachel Gage, Christopher S. Kallie, Tingting Liu, Gordon E. Legge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The visual span-the number of adjacent text letters that can be reliably recognized on one fixation-has been proposed as a sensory bottleneck that limits reading speed (Legge, Mansfield, & Chung, 2001). Like reading, searching for a face is an important daily task that involves pattern recognition. Is there a similar limitation on the number of faces that can be recognized in a single fixation? Here we report on a study in which we measured and compared the visual-span profiles for letter and face recognition. A serial two-stage model for pattern recognition was developed to interpret the data. The first stage is characterized by factors limiting recognition of isolated letters or faces, and the second stage represents the interfering effect of nearby stimuli on recognition. Our findings show that the visual span for faces is smaller than that for letters. Surprisingly, however, when differences in first-stage processing for letters and faces are accounted for, the two visual spans become nearly identical. These results suggest that the concept of visual span may describe a common sensory bottleneck that underlies different types of pattern recognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number7
JournalJournal of vision
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 ARVO.


  • Crowding
  • Face recognition
  • Letter recognition
  • Visual acuity
  • Visual span


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