Memory Effects of Manipulating Text Column Width: Eye-Movement Induced Attentional Processes Interfere With Prose Encoding Among Consistent Handers

Percept Mot Skills. 2021 Feb;128(1):560-577. doi: 10.1177/0031512520962591. Epub 2020 Oct 6.


Performing bilateral saccadic eye-movements has enhanced subsequent verbal recall among consistent handers (people who use their dominant hands for virtually all tasks) but not inconsistent handers (people who use their non-dominant hands for some tasks); but eye-movements prior to encoding have disrupted recall in consistent handers. We sought to better understand how this research might be applied to recalling written text presented in ways that differentially affected eye movements. We manipulated text column width in order to test whether induced eye movements and resultant right hemisphere activations would lead consistent handed (versus inconsistent handed) readers to experience encoding disruptions and poorer recall of the written passage. We presented participants, divided by handedness consistency and gender, with a story about a fictional island in which the lines of text were either ∼28 or ∼120 characters wide. We later asked participants to answer 20 questions about the story and measured their memory performance by both their percentage of correct answers and by their correct answers adjusted for a guessing tendency. We found a handedness by text width interaction. Consistent handers who read the story in a narrower column width showed poorer recall than both inconsistent handers and consistent handers who read the story in the wider text column. We suggest a chain of events such that text width altered eye-movements that, in turn, activated right hemisphere brain processes associated with orienting attention and attentional control, competing with consistent handers' encoding.

Keywords: attention/distraction; cognition; eye movements; handedness/performance laterality; learning and memory; motor skills; motor skills and ergonomics; reading.

MeSH terms

  • Attention
  • Eye Movements*
  • Functional Laterality*
  • Humans
  • Memory
  • Mental Recall