Psychophysics of reading-V. The role of contrast in normal vision

Gordon E Legge, Gary S. Rubin, Andrew Luebker

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248 Scopus citations


How does contrast affect reading rate? What is the role of contrast sensitivity? We measured reading rate as a function of the contrast and character size of text for subjects with normal vision. Reading rates were highest (about 350 words/min) for letters ranging in size from 0.25° to 2°. Within this range, reading was very tolerant to contrast reduction-for 1° letters, reading rate decreased by less than a factor of two for a tenfold reduction in contrast. The results were very similar for white-on-black and black-on-white text. Reading rate declined more rapidly for very small (<0.25°) and very large (>2°) letters. People with low vision usually require large characters to read, so high contrast is particularly important for them. Taking 35 words/min to be a threshold for reading, we constructed a contrast-sensitivity function (CSF) for reading. We were able to relate the shape of this CSF to the shape of sine-wave grating CSFs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1165-1177
Number of pages13
JournalVision Research
Issue number7
StatePublished - 1987

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements-We would like to thankD enisPelli for helpingu s with the schemef or contrasta ttenuationH, olli Rietmulderf or help with collectiona nd ~b~tion of data, and Mary Schleskef or preparationo f the figures. Pre-liminaryr esultsw erep resenteda t theA nnual Meetingo f the Optical Societyo f America,S an Diego, 1984T. he research was supportedb y PHS Grant EY02934.


  • Contrast
  • Contrast sensitivity
  • Low vision
  • Psychophysics
  • Reading


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