Evidence of Serial Processing in Visual Word Recognition

Psychol Sci. 2018 Jul;29(7):1062-1071. doi: 10.1177/0956797617751898. Epub 2018 May 7.


To test the limits of parallel processing in vision, we investigated whether people can recognize two words at once. Participants viewed brief, masked pairs of words and were instructed in advance to judge both of the words (dual-task condition) or just one of the words (single-task condition). For judgments of semantic category, the dual-task deficit was so large that it supported all-or-none serial processing: Participants could recognize only one word and had to guess about the other. Moreover, participants were more likely to be correct about one word if they were incorrect about the other, which also supports a serial-processing model. In contrast, judgments of text color with identical stimuli were consistent with unlimited-capacity parallel processing. Thus, under these conditions, serial processing is necessary to judge the meaning of words but not their physical features. Understanding the implications of this result for natural reading will require further investigation.

Keywords: divided attention; language; open data; visual attention; visual perception; word recognition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Psycholinguistics*
  • Reading*
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology*
  • Young Adult