What is it about?

During reading we look ahead in the text. The perceptual span measures how far we look ahead. Using a large developmental sample, we show that the amount of look-ahead changes at any given moment by the difficulty of what we currently read, or foveal load. When reading easier words we look ahead further than when reading difficult words.

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Why is it important?

Our findings provide three new insights. First, we provide the first direct evidence of the foveal load hypothesis, which states that foveal processing difficulty modulates the perceptual span. Second, we show that this dynamic modulation of the perceptual span is already in place early in reading development, as soon as preview is used at all. Third, using parameters extracted from nonlinear mixed models we show that the size of the perceptual span is larger for spatial than for temporal eye movement decisions.


This article grew out of my longstanding interest in what modulates the focus of attention. The combination of a great team (internally referred to as the three Js, or J3), a large longitudinal dataset and the need to research new statistical methods helped us to arrive at a word-based measure of the perceptual span, and to contribute to the longstanding issue of foveal load effects. I hope you find this research inspiring.

Jochen Laubrock
University of Potsdam

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The perceptual span is dynamically adjusted in response to foveal load by beginning readers., Journal of Experimental Psychology General, December 2021, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/xge0001140.
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