Shorter lines facilitate reading in those who struggle

PLoS One. 2013 Aug 5;8(8):e71161. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0071161. Print 2013.


People with dyslexia, who ordinarily struggle to read, sometimes remark that reading is easier when e-readers are used. Here, we used eye tracking to observe high school students with dyslexia as they read using these devices. Among the factors investigated, we found that reading using a small device resulted in substantial benefits, improving reading speeds by 27%, reducing the number of fixations by 11%, and importantly, reducing the number of regressive saccades by more than a factor of 2, with no cost to comprehension. Given that an expected trade-off between horizontal and vertical regression was not observed when line lengths were altered, we speculate that these effects occur because sluggish attention spreads perception to the left as the gaze shifts during reading. Short lines eliminate crowded text to the left, reducing regression. The effects of attention modulation by the hand, and of increased letter spacing to reduce crowding, were also found to modulate the oculomotor dynamics in reading, but whether these factors resulted in benefits or costs depended on characteristics, such as visual attention span, that varied within our sample.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology
  • Books
  • Dyslexia / physiopathology*
  • Dyslexia / rehabilitation*
  • Equipment Design
  • Eye Movements / physiology
  • Female
  • Fixation, Ocular / physiology
  • Humans
  • MP3-Player*
  • Male
  • Reading*
  • Young Adult

Grants and funding

This article is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grants No. HRD-0930962 and HRD-1131039, and the Youth Access Grant program at the Smithsonian Institution. Data are archived at the Harvard IQSS Dataverse Network, The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.