, Volume 232, Issue 3, pp 1025-1036
Date: 27 Dec 2013

Learning to read upside-down: a study of perceptual expertise and its acquisition

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Reading is an expert visual and ocular motor function, learned mainly in a single orientation. Characterizing the features of this expertise can be accomplished by contrasts between reading of normal and inverted text, in which perceptual but not linguistic factors are altered. Our goal was to examine this inversion effect in healthy subjects reading text, to derive behavioral and ocular motor markers of perceptual expertise in reading, and to study these parameters before and after training with inverted reading. Seven subjects engaged in a 10-week program of 30 half-hour sessions of reading inverted text. Before and after training, we assessed reading of upright and inverted single words for response time and word-length effects, as well as reading of paragraphs for time required, accuracy, and ocular motor parameters. Before training, inverted reading was characterized by long reading times and large word-length effects, with eye movements showing more and longer fixations, more and smaller forward saccades, and more regressive saccades. Training partially reversed many of these effects in single word and text reading, with the best gains occurring in reading aloud time and proportion of regressive saccades and the least change in forward saccade amplitude. We conclude that reading speed and ocular motor parameters can serve as markers of perceptual expertise during reading and that training with inverted text over 10 weeks results in significant gains of reading expertise in this unfamiliar orientation. This approach may be useful in the rehabilitation of patients with hemianopic dyslexia.