Reading and Writing

, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 523–542 | Cite as

Character reversal in children: the prominent role of writing direction

  • Jean-Paul Fischer


Recent research has established that 5- to 6-year-old typically developing children in a left–right writing culture spontaneously reverse left-oriented characters (e.g., they write Open image in new window instead of J) when they write single characters. Thus, children seem to implicitly apply a right-writing rule (RWR: see Fischer & Koch, 2016a). In Study 1, the reversal of all asymmetrical digits and capital letters by 356 children was modeled with a simple Rasch model, which describes reversal as the outcome of two competing responses, correct writing and writing in the cultural direction of writing. It accounts for the high frequency of reversals of the left-oriented characters (3, Z, J, 1, 2, 7, 9), as predicted by the RWR. Study 2 investigated letter reversals when children spontaneously write their name from right to left. Most of the 204 children in the study radically changed the direction of the RWR by reversing mainly the right-oriented letters (B, C, D, E, F, G, K, L, N, P, R, S). Hence, a more universal formulation of the RWR would be as an implicit rule orienting characters in the writing direction. This reformulated rule is consistent with the “spatial agency bias” model (Suitner & Maas, 2016), according to which writing direction affects thoughts and actions. Visual and motoric statistical learning may favor bootstrapping of the rule. Taken together, these data demonstrate the prominent role of culture in a phenomenon—character reversal or mirror writing—which has often been presented uniquely as biologically determined.


Mirror writing Writing direction Capital letter reversal Digit reversal Rasch model 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.InterPsy LaboratoryUniversity LorraineNancy CedexFrance

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