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The word superiority effect overcomes crowding.

Vision Research 2024 May 31
Crowding and the word superiority effect are two perceptual phenomena that influence reading. The identification of the inner letters of a word can be hindered by crowding from adjacent letters, but it can be facilitated by the word context itself (the word superiority effect). In the present study, strings of four-letters (words and non-words) with different inter-letter spacings (ranging from an optimal spacing to produce crowding to a spacing too large to produce crowding) were presented briefly in the periphery and participants were asked to identify the third letter of the string. Each word had a partner word that was identical except for its third letter (e.g., COLD, CORD) so that guessing as the source of the improved performance for words could be ruled out. Unsurprisingly, letter identification accuracy for words was better than non-words. For non-words, it was lowest at closer spacings, confirming crowding. However, for words, accuracy remained high at all inter-letter spacings showing that crowding did not prevent identification of the inner letters. This result supports models of "holistic" word recognition where partial cues can lead to recognition without first identifying individual letters. Once the word is recognized, its inner letters can be recovered, despite their feature loss produced by crowding.

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