Optimizing text for an individual's visual system: The contribution of visual crowding to reading difficulties

Cortex. 2018 Jun:103:291-301. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2018.03.013. Epub 2018 Mar 23.


Reading is a complex process that involves low-level visual processing, phonological processing, and higher-level semantic processing. Given that skilled reading requires integrating information among these different systems, it is likely that reading difficulty-known as dyslexia-can emerge from impairments at any stage of the reading circuitry. To understand contributing factors to reading difficulties within individuals, it is necessary to diagnose the function of each component of the reading circuitry. Here, we investigated whether adults with dyslexia who have impairments in visual processing respond to a visual manipulation specifically targeting their impairment. We collected psychophysical measures of visual crowding and tested how each individual's reading performance was affected by increased text-spacing, a manipulation designed to alleviate severe crowding. Critically, we identified a sub-group of individuals with dyslexia showing elevated crowding and found that these individuals read faster when text was rendered with increased letter-, word- and line-spacing. Our findings point to a subtype of dyslexia involving elevated crowding and demonstrate that individuals benefit from interventions personalized to their specific impairments.

Keywords: Dyslexia; Reading; Text spacing; Visual attention; Visual crowding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Comprehension / physiology*
  • Dyslexia / physiopathology
  • Dyslexia / rehabilitation*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Reading*
  • Young Adult