When we read, our eyes lock on to different letters in the same word instead of scanning a page smoothly from left to right, as previously thought, researchers said on Monday.
Using sophisticated eye tracking equipment, the team looked at letters within a word and found that people combined parts of a word that were on average two letters apart, said Simon Liversedge, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Southampton.
The findings could lead to better methods of teaching children to read and offer remedial treatments for those with reading disorders such as dyslexia, said Liversedge, who presented his work at a meeting organised by the British Association for the Advancement of Science.
“What I’m trying to understand is the relationship between the physiological processes that underpin human written language comprehension and their relationship with eye movements people make to read sentences,” he said. Over the past 40 years scientists have studied eye movements and reading, with a general consensus that people look at the same letter within a word with both eyes, Liversedge said.
To test this, Liversedge measured the reflections of a low-intensity infrared beam shone into a volunteer’s eye when reading. This allowed the researchers to pinpoint exactly where the eye had fixated on a word.