Parafoveal processing of orthographic and phonological information in reading: A comparison of adult readers and elementary school students.

Parafoveal processing of orthographic and phonological information in reading: A comparison of adult readers and elementary school students.

First Author: Ralph Radach -- University of Wuppertal
Additional authors/chairs: 
Chris Vorstius; Verena Krengel; Albrecht Inhoff
Keywords: Eye movements, Parafoveal Processing, Phonological processing, Word recognition processes, Reading development
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose: A substantial body of research has examined the extent and time course of spatially distributed information processing in skilled adult reading. One central result has been that readers acquire and use both orthographic and phonological information from target words even before these word are being fixated. The present study is the first to explore the extent of fast phonological processing of parafoveal words with children.

Methods: In two experiments, groups of German 4th grade students (n=64) and adults (n=32) read sentences with identical target words for comprehension while their eye movements were being recorded. We used the boundary technique of eye movement contingent display changes to present preview strings that were replaced with the target (e.g. “Sand”) as soon as the eyes crossed an invisible boundary while moving towards the critical location. Control conditions included an identical (Sand) and a visually dissimilar mask preview (Ptile). The two experimental conditions provided either useful orthographic information (Sack) or both orthographic and phonological information (Samt).

Results: For elementary school students target word viewing times were shortest for the identical and longest for the mask condition. Values for the experimental conditions were between these extremes, but there was little difference between the orthographic and parafoveal condition. A similar pattern emerged in the adult data but this time there was also a clear advantage of the phonological over the orthographic condition.

Conclusion: Missing evidence for early phonological processing in children could have been attributed to lack of power or specific features of the German language. However, these accounts are effectively ruled out by the adult data. Instead, it appears that the effective use of sound features in early word processing is acquired at a relatively late stage of reading development, when processing routines become more and more automatic.