Music-reading expertise modulates the visual span for English letters but not Chinese characters

J Vis. 2019 Apr 1;19(4):10. doi: 10.1167/19.4.10.


Recent research has suggested that the visual span in stimulus identification can be enlarged through perceptual learning. Since both English and music reading involve left-to-right sequential symbol processing, music-reading experience may enhance symbol identification through perceptual learning particularly in the right visual field (RVF). In contrast, as Chinese can be read in all directions, and components of Chinese characters do not consistently form a left-right structure, this hypothesized RVF enhancement effect may be limited in Chinese character identification. To test these hypotheses, here we recruited musicians and nonmusicians who read Chinese as their first language (L1) and English as their second language (L2) to identify music notes, English letters, Chinese characters, and novel symbols (Tibetan letters) presented at different eccentricities and visual field locations on the screen while maintaining central fixation. We found that in English letter identification, significantly more musicians achieved above-chance performance in the center-RVF locations than nonmusicians. This effect was not observed in Chinese character or novel symbol identification. We also found that in music note identification, musicians outperformed nonmusicians in accuracy in the center-RVF condition, consistent with the RVF enhancement effect in the visual span observed in English-letter identification. These results suggest that the modulation of music-reading experience on the visual span for stimulus identification depends on the similarities in the perceptual processes involved.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Asian People*
  • Comprehension / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Learning
  • Male
  • Music*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Reading*
  • Visual Fields / physiology
  • Young Adult