Psychophysics of reading--V. The role of contrast in normal vision

Vision Res. 1987;27(7):1165-77. doi: 10.1016/0042-6989(87)90028-9.


How does contrast affect reading rate? What is the role of contrast sensitivity? We measured reading rate as a function of the contrast and character size of text for subjects with normal vision. Reading rates were highest (about 350 words/min) for letters ranging in size from 0.25 degree to 2 degrees. Within this range, reading was very tolerant to contrast reduction--for 1 degree letters, reading rate decreased by less than a factor of two for a tenfold reduction in contrast. The results were very similar for white-on-black and black-on-white text. Reading rate declined more rapidly for very small (less than 0.25 degree) and very large (greater than 2 degrees) letters. People with low vision usually require large characters to read, so high contrast is particularly important for them. Taking 35 words/min to be a threshold for reading, we constructed a contrast-sensitivity function (CSF) for reading. We were able to relate the shape of this CSF to the shape of sine-wave grating CSFs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Light
  • Psychophysics
  • Reading*
  • Sensory Thresholds
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Visual Perception / physiology