Skip to main content

Character reversal in children: the prominent role of writing direction

Abstract

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 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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

Notes

  1. The percentages of reversed and correct writings were manifestly inverted in Ritchey’s (2008, p. 37) graph (or in the legend). For comparison, we estimated the percentage of reversals by measuring on the graph the number of reversals and the absence of writings (correct or reversed) for each of the 15 asymmetrical capital letters.

  2. The probability of a participant, p, reversing an item, i, can be derived from the basic formula given at the beginning of Study 1: p pi = [exp(θp − βi)]/[1 + exp(θp − βi)].

  3. The letters (J and Z) were dictated three times: only the first writing was included in the data. The digit writings are not analyzed in this study.

  4. For example, in visual motion drawing (e.g., Maass, Suitner, & Nadhmi, 2014), aesthetic preference (Chokron & De Agostini, 2000; but see Treiman & Allaith, 2013), and line bisection (Chokron, Bartolomeo, Perenin, Helft, & Imbert, 1998).

References

  • Andersen, E. B. (1973). A goodness of fit test for the Rasch model. Psychometrika, 38, 123–140. doi:10.1007/BF02291180.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Casasanto, D., & Bottini, R. (2014). Mirror reading can reverse the flow of time. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143, 473–479. doi:10.1037/a0033297.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chokron, S., Bartolomeo, P., Perenin, M. T., Helft, G., & Imbert, M. (1998). Scanning direction and line bisection: A study of normal subjects and unilateral neglect patients with opposite reading habits. Cognitive Brain Research, 7, 173–178. doi:10.1016/S0926-6410(98)00022-6.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chokron, S., & De Agostini, M. (2000). Reading habits influence aesthetic preference. Cognitive Brain Research, 10, 45–49. doi:10.1016/S0926-6410(00)00021-5.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Christophe, A., Millotte, S., Bernal, S., & Lidz, J. (2008). Bootstrapping lexical and syntactic acquisition. Language and Speech, 51, 61–75. doi:10.1177/00238309080510010501.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.

    Google Scholar 

  • Corballis, M. C., & Beale, I. L. (1976). The psychology of left and right. New York, NY: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cornell, J. (1985). Spontaneous mirror-writing in children. Canadian Journal of Psychology, 39, 174–179. doi:10.1037/h0080122.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dehaene, S. (2010). Reading in the brain. New York, NY: Penguin Viking.

    Google Scholar 

  • Erickson, L. C., & Thiessen, E. D. (2015). Statistical learning of language: Theory, validity, and predictions of a statistical learning account of language acquisition. Developmental Review, 37, 66–108. doi:10.1016/j.dr.2015.05.002.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fischer, J. P. (2010). Vers une levée du mystère des écritures en miroir (des chiffres) chez l’enfant [Digit mirror-writing in children: Towards an unlocking of the mystery]. L’année psychologique, 110, 227–251. doi:10.4074/S0003503310002034.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fischer, J. P. (2013). Digit reversal in children’s writing: A simple theory and its empirical validation. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 115, 356–370. doi:10.1016/j.jecp.2013.02.003.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fischer, J. P., & Koch, A. M. (2014). La magie computationnelle de la voie ventrale est-elle à l’origine de l’inversion des lettres et des chiffres chez l’enfant de cinq à six ans ? [Does the reversal of the letters and digits by the five to six-year-old child originate in the computational magic of the ventral stream?]. Revue de Neuropsychologie, 6, 230–237. doi:10.1684/nrp.2014.0318.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fischer, J. P., & Koch, A. M. (2016a). Mirror writing in 5- to 6-year-old children: The preferred hand is not the explanation. Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition, 21, 34–49. doi:10.1080/1357650X.2015.1066383.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fischer, J. P., & Koch, A. M. (2016b). Mirror writing in typically developing children: A first longitudinal study. Cognitive Development, 38, 114–124. doi:10.1016/j.cogdev.2016.02.005.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fischer, J. P., & Tazouti, Y. (2012). Unraveling the mystery of mirror writing in typically developing children. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104, 193–205. doi:10.1037/a0025735.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Flieller, A. (1994). Méthodes d’étude de l’adéquation au modèle logistique à un paramètre (modèle de Rasch) [Methods of assessment of Rasch’s model-data fit: A review]. Mathématiques et Sciences Humaines, 127, 19–47.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gordon, H. (1921). Left-handedness and mirror writing, especially among defective children. Brain, 43, 313–368. doi:10.1093/brain/43.4.313.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hildreth, G. (1950). The development and training of hand dominance: IV. Developmental problems associated with handedness. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 76, 39–100. doi:10.1080/08856559.1950.10533526.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ireland, W. W. (1881). On mirror-writing and its relation to left-handedness and cerebral disease. Brain, 4, 361–367. doi:10.1093/brain/4.3.361.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kiefer, T., Robitzsch, A., & Wu, M. (2016). Package ‘TAM’: Test analysis modules (version 1.16-0). Retrieved from: https://cran.r-project.org/web/packages/TAM/TAM.pdf on February 6, 2016.

  • Lebrun, Y., Devreux, F., & Leleux, C. (1989). Mirror-writing. In P. G. Aaron & R. M. Joshi (Eds.), Reading and writing disorders in different orthographic systems (pp. 355–378). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Maass, A., Suitner, C., & Deconchy, J. P. (2014). Living in an asymmetrical world: How writing direction affects thought and action. London: Psychology Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Maass, A., Suitner, C., & Nadhmi, F. (2014). What drives the spatial agency bias? An Italian–Malagasy–Arabic comparison study. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143, 991–996. doi:10.1037/a0034989.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mair, P., & Hatzinger, R. (2007). Extended Rasch modeling: The eRm package for the application of IRT models in R. Journal of Statistical Software, 20(9), 1–20. doi:10.18637/jss.v020.i09.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Maydeu-Olivares, A. (2013). Goodness-of-fit assessment of item response theory models. Measurement: Interdisciplinary Research and Perspectives, 11(3), 71–101. doi:10.1080/15366367.2013.831680.

    Google Scholar 

  • McIntosh, R. D., & Della Sala, S. (2012). Mirror-writing. The Psychologist, 25, 742–746.

    Google Scholar 

  • Oosterhof, N. N., Wiggett, A. J., Diedrichsen, J., Tipper, S. P., & Downing, P. E. (2010). Surface-based information mapping reveals crossmodal vision-action representations in human parietal and occipitotemporal cortex. Journal of Neurophysiology, 104, 1077–1089. doi:10.1152/jn.00326.2010.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • R Core Team. (2015). R: A language and environment for statistical computing. Vienna (Austria): R Foundation for Statistical Computing. https://www.R-project.org/.

  • Ritchey, K. D. (2008). The building blocks of writing: Learning to write letters and spell words. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 21, 27–47. doi:10.1007/s11145-007-9063-0.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Román, A., Flumini, A., Lizano, P., Escobar, M., & Santiago, J. (2015). Reading direction causes spatial biases in mental model construction in language understanding. Scientific Reports, 5(18248), 1–8. doi:10.1038/srep18248.

    Google Scholar 

  • Scheidemann, N. V. (1936). Inverse writing: A case of consistent mirror writing. The Pedagogical Seminary and Journal of Genetic Psychology, 48, 489–494. doi:10.1080/08856559.1936.10533745.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shuttleworth, S. (2010). The mind of the child: Child development in literature, science, and medicine, 1840–1900. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Spencer, M., Kaschak, M. P., Jones, J. L., & Lonigan, C. J. (2015). Statistical learning is related to early literacy-related skills. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 28, 467–490. doi:10.1007/s11145-014-9533-0.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Suitner, C. (2009). Where to place social targets? Stereotyping and spatial agency bias. Retrieved from http://paduaresearch.cab.unipd.it/1756/1/tesi_suitner.pdf on April 8, 2016.

  • Suitner, C., & Maass, A. (2016). Spatial agency bias: Representing people in space. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 53, 245–301. doi:10.1016/bs.aesp.2015.09.004.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thompson, B., Kirby, S., & Smith, K. (2016). Culture shapes the evolution of cognition. PNAS, 113, 4530–4535. doi:10.1073/pnas.1523631113.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Treiman, R., & Allaith, Z. (2013). Do reading habits influence aesthetic preferences? Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 26, 1381–1386. doi:10.1007/s11145-012-9424-1.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Treiman, R., Gordon, J., Boada, R., Peterson, R. L., & Pennington, B. F. (2014). Statistical learning, letter reversals, and reading. Scientific Studies of Reading, 18, 383–394. doi:10.1080/10888438.2013.873937.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Treiman, R., & Kessler, B. (2011). Similarities among the shapes of writing and their effects on learning. Written Language and Literacy, 14, 39–57. doi:10.1075/wll.14.1.03tre.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wilson, M., & De Boeck, P. (2004). Descriptive and explanatory item response models. In P. de Boeck & M. Wilson (Eds.), Explanatory item response models: A generalized linear and nonlinear approach (pp. 43–74). New York, NY: Springer.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jean-Paul Fischer.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Fischer, JP. Character reversal in children: the prominent role of writing direction. Read Writ 30, 523–542 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-016-9688-y

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-016-9688-y

Keywords

  • Mirror writing
  • Writing direction
  • Capital letter reversal
  • Digit reversal
  • Rasch model