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. 2017 Apr 4;8:514.
doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00514. eCollection 2017.

Universal Visual Features Might Be Necessary for Fluent Reading. A Longitudinal Study of Visual Reading in Braille and Cyrillic Alphabets

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Free PMC article

Universal Visual Features Might Be Necessary for Fluent Reading. A Longitudinal Study of Visual Reading in Braille and Cyrillic Alphabets

Łukasz Bola et al. Front Psychol. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

It has been hypothesized that efficient reading is possible because all reading scripts have been matched, through cultural evolution, to the natural capabilities of the visual cortex. This matching has resulted in all scripts being made of line-junctions, such as T, X, or L. Our aim was to test a critical prediction of this hypothesis: visual reading in an atypical script that is devoid of line-junctions (such as the Braille alphabet read visually) should be much less efficient than reading in a "normal" script (e.g., Cyrillic). Using a lexical decision task, we examined Visual Braille reading speed and efficiency in sighted Braille teachers. As a control, we tested learners of a natural visual script, Cyrillic. Both groups participated in a two semester course of either visual Braille or Russian while their reading speed and accuracy was tested at regular intervals. The results show that visual Braille reading is slow, prone to errors and highly serial, even in Braille readers with years of prior reading experience. Although subjects showed some improvements in their visual Braille reading accuracy and speed following the course, the effect of word length on reading speed (typically observed in beginning readers) was remained very sizeable through all testing sessions. These results are in stark contrast to Cyrillic, a natural script, where only 3 months of learning were sufficient to achieve relative proficiency. Taken together, these results suggest that visual features such as line junctions and their combinations might be necessary for efficient reading.

Keywords: blindness; human learning; learning; reading; sensory perception; vision; visual reading.

Figures

FIGURE 1
FIGURE 1
Natural visual objects have certain invariant properties that are common to most viewpoints. Object recognition relies heavily on these visual features. The shape T, for instance, is extremely frequent in natural scenes. Whenever one object masks another, their contours almost always form a T-junction. Thus neurons that act as “T-detectors” could help determine which object is in front of which. Reproduced from Dehaene (2009).
FIGURE 2
FIGURE 2
Outline of the study and experimental procedures. (A) Braille course participants were tested three times: during the baseline testing session and after 6 and 9 months of the course. (B) Russian course participants were tested four times: during the baseline testing session and after 3, 6, and 8 months of the course. (C) In each testing session, subjects performed a lexical decision task, in which subjects were asked to visually read items appearing on the screen and make a word/pseudoword decision. Braille course participants performed this task in Braille and Latin (i.e., native) alphabets. Russian course participants performed it in Cyrillic and Latin. (D) Examples of stimuli in Braille, Cyrillic, and Latin alphabets.
FIGURE 3
FIGURE 3
Visual Braille reading. Although subjects progressed in their visual Braille reading, the process remained very slow and serial. During the course, we observed (A) an increase in mean accuracy as well as (B) a decrease in reaction time (RT) when subjects performed the Braille lexical decision task. However, (C) Braille reading remained very slow when compared with reading a regular alphabet. The item length was virtually constant through all testing sessions, both for words and pseudowords. Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals. Asterisks indicate a significant difference between the results of specific testing sessions (∗∗∗p < 0.001, ∗∗p < 0.01).
FIGURE 4
FIGURE 4
Cyrillic alphabet reading. Contrary to visual Braille, the Cyrillic alphabet can be quickly mastered to a high level of fluency. The item length effect is smaller for words than for pseudowords and is modulated by readers’ expertise. A mere 3 months of Cyrillic learning was sufficient to (A) progress in the lexical decision task from chance level to accuracy around 85%. Also (B) RT decreased to a relatively low level. After 6 and 8 months of course, the item length effect (C) for words was small. Notably, even after only 3 months of learning Russian, the item length effect both for words and pseudowords was smaller than in the case of the Braille learners. Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals. Asterisks indicate a significant difference between the results of specific testing sessions (∗∗∗p < 0.001, ∗∗p < 0.01, p < 0.05). RT data from the first testing session were discarded because subjects performed the word/pseudoword discrimination at chance level.

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