Letter-recognition and reading speed in peripheral vision benefit from perceptual learning

Susana T.L. Chung, Gordon E. Legge, Sing Hang Cheung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

127 Scopus citations


Visual-span profiles are plots of letter-recognition accuracy as a function of letter position left or right of the midline. Previously, we have shown that contraction of these profiles in peripheral vision can account for slow reading speed in peripheral vision. In this study, we asked two questions: (1) can we modify visual-span profiles through training on letter-recognition, and if so, (2) are these changes accompanied by changes in reading speed? Eighteen normally sighted observers were randomly assigned to one of three groups: training at 10° in the upper visual field, training at 10° in the lower visual field and a no-training control group. We compared observers' characteristics of reading (maximum reading speed and critical print size) and visual-span profiles (peak amplitude and bits of information transmitted) before and after training, and at trained and untrained retinal locations (10° upper and lower visual fields). Reading speeds were measured for six print sizes at each retinal location, using the rapid serial visual presentation paradigm. Visual-span profiles were measured using a trigram letter-recognition task, for a letter size equivalent to 1.4× the critical print size for reading. Training consisted of the repeated measurement of 20 visual-span profiles (over four consecutive days) in either the upper or lower visual field. We also tracked the changes in performance in a sub-group of observers for up to three months following training. We found that the visual-span profiles can be expanded (bits of information transmitted increased by 6 bits) through training with a letter-recognition task, and that there is an accompanying increase (41%) in the maximum reading speed. These improvements transferred, to a large extent, from the trained to an untrained retinal location, and were retained, to a large extent, for at least three months following training. Our results are consistent with the view that the visual span is a bottleneck on reading speed, but a bottleneck that can be increased with practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)695-709
Number of pages15
JournalVision Research
Issue number7
StatePublished - Mar 2004

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by research grants from the National Institutes of Health, EY12810 (STLC) and EY02934 (GEL). We thank Sara Sass and Joshua Gefroh for assistance with subject testing, and Harold Bedell and Bosco Tjan for helpful discussion.


  • Letter-recognition
  • Low vision
  • Perceptual learning
  • Peripheral vision
  • Reading
  • Visual rehabilitation


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