Study looks at why increased letter spacing helps individuals read faster

Researchers have investigated why increased letter spacing helps individuals read faster and according to them it is not because of visual processing, but something else.

Researchers from Binghamton University, State University of New York, have been trying to understand how the brain activity of kids that have difficulty learning to read differs from those who are not. Researchers came across this effect called the letter-spacing effect, which is this finding that both kids and adults with or without specific reading impairment read faster and more fluidly when you increase the spaces between letters in words.

The Reading Brain Project, which studies how children read, measuring their brain activity as they play a computerized reading game, has the goal of helping children become more successful readers.

As part of this project the latest study saw researchers measure the electrical activity in subjects’ brains when they were shown pictures of words, letters that spell out pronounceable pseudo-words, strings of consonants, and a font that is visually similar to real words but has no meaning. Researchers said if the letter-spacing effect was due to visual processing, it would be easier to respond to all of these characters.

The increased spacing was very helpful for the words, and less helpful for the pseudo-words and the consonant strings. The fact that more “word-like” stimuli benefited more than less “word-like” stimuli suggests that the benefit is occurring during a reading-specific process, rather than during a purely visual stage.

Researchers say they don’t know exactly yet where it’s coming into play, but if they can identify exactly where it is helping individuals during reading, then the idea is that they can employ it more effectively.

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