Spatial-frequency requirements for reading revisited

Mi Young Kwon, Gordon E. Legge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Blur is one of many visual factors that can limit reading in both normal and low vision. Legge et al. [Legge, G. E., Pelli, D. G., Rubin, G. S., & Schleske, M. M. (1985). Psychophysics of reading. I. Normal vision. Vision Research, 25, 239-252.] measured reading speed for text that was low-pass filtered with a range of cutoff spatial frequencies. Above 2. cycles per letter (CPL) reading speed was constant at its maximum level, but decreased rapidly for lower cutoff frequencies. It remains unknown why the critical cutoff for reading speed is near 2 CPL. The goal of the current study was to ask whether the spatial-frequency requirement for rapid reading is related to the effects of cutoff frequency on letter recognition and the size of the visual span. Visual span profiles were measured by asking subjects to recognize letters in trigrams (random strings of three letters) flashed for 150. ms at varying letter positions left and right of the fixation point. Reading speed was measured with Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP). The size of the visual span and reading speed were measured for low-pass filtered stimuli with cutoff frequencies from 0.8 to 8 CPL. Low-pass letter recognition data, obtained under similar testing conditions, were available from our previous study (Kwon & Legge, 2011). We found that the spatial-frequency requirement for reading is very similar to the spatial-frequency requirements for the size of the visual span and single letter recognition. The critical cutoff frequencies for reading speed, the size of the visual span and a contrast-invariant measure of letter recognition were all near 1.4 CPL, which is lower than the previous estimate of 2 CPL for reading speed. Although correlational in nature, these results are consistent with the hypothesis that the size of the visual span is closely linked to reading speed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-147
Number of pages9
JournalVision Research
StatePublished - Jun 1 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Rachel Gage for help with data collection. This work was supported by NIH Grant R01 EY002934.


  • Blur
  • Letter recognition
  • Low vision
  • Peripheral vision
  • Reading
  • Spatial-frequency bandwidth
  • Visual span


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