, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp 333-344

Letter detection: A window to unitization and other cognitive processes in reading text


Experiments are reviewed that use the letter-detection task, in which subjects read text and circle target letters. Evidence is provided that the letter-detection task reveals the processing units used in reading text and is influenced as well by visual, phonetic, and a combination of semantic and syntactic factors. Specifically, it is shown that circling a target letter in a word depends on the familiarity of the word’s visual configuration, the location of the word in the reader’s visual field, the phonetic representation of the letter in the word, and a combination of the word’s meaning and its grammatical function.

Preparation of this article was supported in part by Army Research Institute Contract MDA903-93-K-0010 to the University of Colorado. I am grateful to Bob Crowder, Betty Ann Levy, an anonymous reviewer, and especially Jim Neely for very helpful and thoughtful comments concerning earlier versions of this article, which is based on an invited presentation at the 1991 meeting of the American Psychological Association, never delivered due to my sustaining a ruptured appendix. I would like to take this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to my surgeon, Dr. John Day, for saving my life at that time.