Smaller pupil size and better proofreading performance with positive than with negative polarity displays

Ergonomics. 2014;57(11):1670-7. doi: 10.1080/00140139.2014.948496. Epub 2014 Aug 19.


The 'positive polarity advantage' describes the fact that reading performance is better for dark text on light background (positive polarity) than for light text on dark background (negative polarity). We investigated the underlying mechanism by assessing pupil size and proofreading performance when reading positive and negative polarity texts. In particular, we tested the display luminance hypothesis which postulates that the typically greater brightness of positive compared to negative polarity displays leads to smaller pupil sizes and, hence, a sharper retinal image and better perception of detail. Indeed, pupil sizes were smaller and proofreading performance was better with positive than with negative polarity displays. The results are compatible with the hypothesis that the positive polarity advantage is an effect of display luminance. Limitations of the study are being discussed.

Keywords: display design; display polarity; eye tracking; pupil size; screen luminance.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Data Display*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Pupil*
  • Reading*
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Young Adult