Parafoveal Processing in Reading
We have the impression that we can clearly see all of the words in the text, but our representations of words vary in their fidelity as they are represented before, while, and after they are directly fixated. That is, perceptual input from the word is poor quality (i.e., noisy) when a reader fixates the preceding text and can only see the word with upcoming low-acuity vision and it becomes more precise when the reader directly fixates the word and can view it with high-acuity, central vision. However, even the fuzzy glimpse we obtain before looking at a word provides us a head-start on processing it (i.e., a preview benefit; PB). Moreover, the semantic constraint and language context leading up to the target word will change what we anticipate the text to say and, consequently, the way we respond to the visual information (e.g. assessing the plausibility of the word in that particular sentence). Much of our research focuses on what aspects of words readers pre-activate during reading (whether readers gather information just about the way it looks, e.g. if the word is capitalized, an abbreviation, or transposed; vs. if readers glean meaning from the preview and can recognize synonymous words) as well as how these representations trigger eye movement decisions, and what types of contexts support or constrain this process. In general, an easy to process upcoming word can lead the reader to skip over it, or look at it very briefly (i.e., make a forced fixation; FF). Forced fixations can affect readers comprehension and likelihood of rereading the text (i.e., make a regression).
Attention and Decision-making
Attention is a limited resource whose absence may adversely affect decision-making by increasing cognitive load. By tracking the process through which people allocate attention when they make decisions, we investigate what features attract their attention and therefore what is driving them to make those decisions. Humans are flexible with respect to how they process visual information, depending on task goals. This cognitive flexibility is useful because some aspects of a stimulus are more relevant for a particular goal than others. For example, when proofreading a text for spelling errors, a word’s expectedness is more relevant when the errors produce incorrect, but real words (e.g., trial for trail) than when they produce non-words (e.g., trcak for track). Similarly, whether a photograph is in black-and-white or color is more relevant to a decision about which of two photographs is older than to decisions about personal preference. Eye tracking experiments show that people respond differently to specific word or image properties based on their intentions.
Differences Across Tasks and Goals
The efficiency with which we process a text depends on our intentions; speed and accuracy are competing pressures. As people increase their reading speed it becomes more difficult to accurately encode what it said, which suggests that speed reading is actually implausible. The inability to re-read the text negatively affects comprehension; rereading takes time, but that time is not wasted.
When people read aloud, there is the added requirement to pronounce the text, which sometimes leads to decreased encoding of meaning. However, research on bilingual readers in Spanish and Chinese, suggests that the meaning of words is encoded, but then shipped off to a production system that may produce something meaningful, but not the exact content of the text. Singers of a musical score (e.g., chorale singers) have different roles in the piece and these different roles lead to different types of singing errors for irregular intervals and different eye movement patterns when sight-singing.
Parafoveal Perception in Deaf vs. Hearing People
Deaf people allocate more attention to visual stimuli in the parafovea and periphery due to brain reorganization in response to auditory deprivation. This increased attention leads to them having larger perceptual spans than matched hearing people when they read in English, even when they are still learning to read (e.g., children aged 7-15). This increase in perceptual visual attention also leads to them perceiving peripheral ASL signs more accurately at far eccentricities than hearing people, even those who are very proficient in ASL.