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Alan Chun-Nang Wong, Isabel Gauthier; Font tuning differentiates experts and novices in letter recognition. Journal of Vision 2003;3(9):809. doi: 10.1167/3.9.809.
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Letter strings can generally be expected to appear in texts in a regular font (typeface). Previous studies (e.g., Sanocki, 1987, 88, 91) show that people are sensitive to this regularity, with better recognition performance for letters appearing in the same font than mixed fonts. We hypothesize that extensive reading experience equips one with the ability to pick up font regularity, which aids individual letter recognition. To test the relationship between reading experience and font tuning, we recruited Chinese-English bilinguals and English readers. They viewed 3 letters (Roman or Chinese) simultaneously presented side by side on the computer screen and responded to all of them by pressing their corresponding keys. The 3 letters appeared either in the same or mixed fonts, and fonts were manipulated in three different ways (1 — whether the middle part of the letter was high or low; 2 — whether the letters were solid or hollow; 3 — whether the letters were tilted to the left or right). We found that (a) In conditions where extensive reading experience was involved (bilinguals recognizing Roman and Chinese letters and English readers recognizing Roman letters), accuracy was higher when all 3 letters had high (or low) middle parts than when the middle-part positions were mixed; and (b) In conditions where little reading experience was involved (English readers recognizing Chinese letters), accuracy was higher when all 3 letters were solid (or hollow) than when they were mixed. Results show that both experts and novices were sensitive to font regularity but in different fashions. Experts may tune to font information that involves only parts of the letters (e.g., middle part position), whereas novices may be more sensitive to changes which apply to the whole letter (e.g., solidness / hollowness). The distinct types of font tuning suggest differences in the way experts and novices process individual letters.
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