Psychological Research

, Volume 81, Issue 4, pp 863–877 | Cite as

Evidence for a global oculomotor program in reading

  • Noor Al-ZanoonEmail author
  • Michael Dambacher
  • Victor Kuperman
Original Article


Recent corpus studies of eye-movements in reading revealed a substantial increase in saccade amplitudes and fixation durations as the eyes move over the first words of a sentence. This start-up effect suggests a global oculomotor program, which operates on the level of an entire line, in addition to the well-established local programs operating within the visual span. The present study investigates the nature of this global program experimentally and examines whether the start-up effect is predicated on generic visual or specific linguistic characteristics and whether it is mainly reflected in saccade amplitudes, fixation durations or both measures. Eye movements were recorded while 38 participants read (a) normal sentences, (b) sequences of randomly shuffled words and (c) sequences of z-strings. The stimuli were, therefore, similar in their visual features, but varied in the amount of syntactic and lexical information. Further, the stimuli were composed of words or strings that either varied naturally in length (Nonequal condition) or were all restricted to a specific length within a sentence (Equal). The latter condition constrained the variability of saccades and served to dissociate effects of word position in line on saccade amplitudes and fixation durations. A robust start-up effect emerged in saccade amplitudes in all Nonequal stimuli, and—in an attenuated form—in Equal sentences. A start-up effect in single fixation durations was observed in Nonequal and Equal normal sentences, but not in z-strings. These findings support the notion of a global oculomotor program in reading particularly for the spatial characteristics of motor planning, which rely on visual rather than linguistic information.


Word Length Fixation Duration Saccade Amplitude Saccade Target Segmented Regression 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Compliance with ethical standards


This work was supported by the funding from Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council or Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grant 402395-2012, the Early Research Award from the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation, the National Institutes of Health NIH R01 HD 073288 (PI Julie A. Van Dyke), and the Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) award to Victor Kuperman. This work was also completed by Noor Al-Zanoon as an undergraduate thesis in the Cognitive Science of Language program at McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada).

Conflict of interest

All authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.


All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee (McMaster Research Ethics Board, protocol 2011 165).

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

426_2016_786_MOESM1_ESM.docx (54 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 53 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Noor Al-Zanoon
    • 1
    Email author
  • Michael Dambacher
    • 2
  • Victor Kuperman
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Health and Rehabilitation SciencesUniversity of Western OntarioLondonCanada
  2. 2.University of LeicesterLeicesterUK
  3. 3.McMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada

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