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Karin H. James; Writing facilitates the learning of abstract visual representations of letter-like symbols. Journal of Vision 2006;6(6):863. doi: 10.1167/6.6.863.
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Most adults can quickly and accurately read text in many different formats, including cursive writing, font changes in typed text and even some orientation changes. For this to occur, the visual system first must become highly efficient at recognizing letters in their many permutations. In early childhood, visual exposure is typically limited to upright, single font letters usually presented in capitals. Later, when children learn to write, letters take many different visual forms. The current study addressed whether the interaction between writing and visual perception during learning affects the ability to generalize across letter formats. That is, does writing experience lead to abstract visual representations of letters? To examine the interaction between writing and visual perception we trained adult subjects to recognize novel, 2D symbols, or “false fonts” in one of four ways: visual study only, visual and auditory study, visual study and writing the symbols, or visual study and typing the symbols. Results of post-learning sequential matching and visual search tests indicated that visual recognition was facilitated (relative to pre-training measures) under learning conditions that included a motor component (i.e., writing or typing). However, recognition was more robust to changes in font and orientation after learning by writing the symbols than after other learning conditions. These results suggest that writing letters during learning facilitates the construction of abstract letter representations.
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