Beating the Beat: Reading Can Be Faster Than the Frequency of Eye Movements in Persons With Congenital Nystagmus

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Abstract

Purpose.

Rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) of text has been reported to foster higher reading rates than presentation in a continuous text (CT) format, possibly because scanning eye movements are minimized. We investigated how this might be relevant for persons with congenital nystagmus (CN).

Methods.

We evaluated whether reading rates differ in persons with CN for RSVP versus CT presentation of single sentences under otherwise similar conditions. In a second experiment, we presented unrelated words to observers with CN in RSVP format while measuring their eye movements to determine whether reading can occur during the high-velocity, nonfoveating periods of the CN wave form. Both sentences and random words were selected from the MNRead corpus and displayed at 2x, 4x, or 8x the threshold word size on a 21-inch computer monitor.

Results.

Subjects with CN have virtually equivalent maximum reading speeds of 449 and 448 words per minute, respectively, for RSVP and CT presentation of sentences. Typically, reading rates were faster than the frequency of CN, which suggests that subjects could read during the nonfoveating periods of the nystagmus waveform. This finding was confirmed using random words that, unlike those in sentences, cannot be inferred from contextual cues. Examination of eye movements recorded during reading indicated that random words are read correctly with 47% to 65% accuracy (depending on word size) during the nonfoveating periods of the CN waveform.

Conclusion.

A clinical implication of these results is that reading performance in persons with CN should be facilitated by large text sizes that remain legible during a greater fraction of the CN waveform.

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