Font tuning associated with expertise in letter perception

Perception. 2006;35(4):541-59. doi: 10.1068/p5313.


Font tuning (FT) occurs when observers recognize a sequence of letters presented in the same font faster than in different fonts (Sanocki 1987, 1988 Journal of Experimental Psychology. Human Perception and Performance 13 267-278; 14 472-480). Here, we test the hypothesis that FT is associated with expertise with a specific writing system. We developed a systematic search task allowing the measurement of FT over a large number of letters and generalized the finding of FT from English readers viewing Roman letters to Chinese readers viewing Chinese characters. Non-Chinese readers did not show evidence of FT for Chinese characters in this search task. We also used a simpler 3-letter identification task to directly compare novice and expert readers, and to explore FT for different aspects of font such as fill, slant, and aspect ratio. We found that experts tune to aspect ratio but not to the other font changes. These findings reveal that letters are not processed visually in the same manner as shapes, and suggest an explanation for the cortical specialization obtained in the visual system for letters.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Learning
  • Models, Psychological
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Psychological Tests
  • Reaction Time
  • Recognition, Psychology