Crowding, reading, and developmental dyslexia

Marialuisa Martelli, Gloria Di Filippo, Donatella Spinelli, Pierluigi Zoccolotti

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We tested the hypothesis that crowding effects are responsible for the reading slowness characteristic of developmental dyslexia. A total of twenty-nine Italian dyslexics and thirty-three age-matched controls participated in various parts of the study. In Experiment 1, we measured contrast thresholds for identifying letters and words as a function of stimulus duration. Thresholds were higher in dyslexics than controls for words (at a limited time exposure) but not for single letters. Adding noise to the stimuli produced comparable effects in dyslexics and controls. At the long time exposure thresholds were comparable in the two groups. In Experiment 2, we measured the spacing between a target letter and two flankers at a fixed level of performance as a function of eccentricity and size. With eccentricity, the critical spacing (CS) scaled in the control group with 0.62 proportionality (a value of b close to Bouma's law, 0.50) and with a greater proportionality (0.95) in the dyslexic group. CS was independent of size in both groups. In Experiment 3, we examined the critical print size (CPS), that is, the increase in reading rate up to a critical character size (S. T. Chung, J. S. Mansfield, & G. E. Legge, 1998). CPS of dyslexic children was greater than that of controls. Individual maximal reading speed was predicted by individual bs (from Experiment 2). The maximal reading rate achieved by dyslexics at CPS (and also for larger print sizes) was below the values observed in controls. We conclude that word analysis in dyslexics is slowed because of greater crowding effects, which limit letter identification in multi-letter arrays across the visual field. We propose that the peripheral reading of normal readers might constitute a model for dyslexic reading. The periphery model accounts for 60% of dyslexics' slowness. After compensating for crowding, the dyslexics' reading rate remains slower than that of proficient readers. This failure is discussed in terms of a developmental learning effect.

Original languageEnglish
Article number14
JournalJournal of Vision
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 17 2009


  • Crowding
  • Dyslexia
  • Reading

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems

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