Perceptual Span Depends on Font Size During the Reading of Chinese Sentences

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Abstract

The present study explored the perceptual span (i.e., the physical extent of an area from which useful visual information is extracted during a single fixation) during the reading of Chinese sentences in 2 experiments. In Experiment 1, we tested whether the rightward span can go beyond 3 characters when visually similar masks were used. Results showed that Chinese readers needed at least 4 characters to the right of fixation to maintain a normal reading behavior when visually similar masks were used and when characters were displayed in small fonts, indicating that the span is dynamically influenced by masking materials. In Experiments 2 and 3, we asked whether the perceptual span varies as a function of font size in spaced (German) and unspaced (Chinese) scripts. Results clearly suggest perceptual span depends on font size in Chinese, but we failed to find such evidence for German. We propose that the perceptual span in Chinese is flexible; it is strongly constrained by its language-specific properties such as high information density and lack of word spacing. Implications for saccade-target selection during the reading of Chinese sentences are discussed.

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