The visual span is hypothesized to be a sensory bottleneck on reading speed with crowding thought to be the major sensory factor limiting the size of the visual span. This proposed linkage between crowding, visual span, and reading speed is challenged by the finding that training to read crowded letters reduced crowding but did not improve reading speed (Chung, 2007). Here, we examined two properties of letter-recognition training that may influence the transfer to improved reading: the spatial arrangement of training stimuli and the presence of flankers. Three groups of nine young adults were trained with different configurations of letter stimuli at 108 in the lower visual field: a flanked-local group (flanked letters localized at one position), a flanked-distributed group (flanked letters distributed across different horizontal locations), and an isolated-distributed group (isolated and distributed letters). We found that distributed training, but not the presence of flankers, appears to be necessary for the training benefit to transfer to increased reading speed. Localized training may have biased attention to one specific, small area in the visual field, thereby failing to improve reading. We conclude that the visual span represents a sensory bottleneck on reading, but there may also be an attentional bottleneck. Reducing the impact of crowding can enlarge the visual span and can potentially facilitate reading, but not when adverse attentional bias is present. Our results clarify the association between crowding, visual span, and reading.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The authors would like to thank Dr. Susana T. L. Chung for her constructive comments on this paper and Mark Schatza for his help with data collection. The study was supported by NIH grant EY002934.