Spatial attention in written word perception

Veronica Montani, Andrea Facoetti, Marco Zorzi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The role of attention in visual word recognition and reading aloud is a long debated issue. Studies of both developmental and acquired reading disorders provide growing evidence that spatial attention is critically involved in word reading, in particular for the phonological decoding of unfamiliar letter strings. However, studies on healthy participants have produced contrasting results. The aim of this study was to investigate how the allocation of spatial attention may influence the perception of letter strings in skilled readers. High frequency words (HFWs), low frequency words and pseudowords were briefly and parafoveally presented either in the left or the right visual field. Attentional allocation was modulated by the presentation of a spatial cue before the target string. Accuracy in reporting the target string was modulated by the spatial cue but this effect varied with the type of string. For unfamiliar strings, processing was facilitated when attention was focused on the string location and hindered when it was diverted from the target. This finding is consistent the assumptions of the CDP+ model of reading aloud, as well as with familiarity sensitivity models that argue for a flexible use of attention according with the specific requirements of the string. Moreover, we found that processing of HFWs was facilitated by an extra-large focus of attention. The latter result is consistent with the hypothesis that a broad distribution of attention is the default mode during reading of familiar words because it might optimally engage the broad receptive fields of the highest detectors in the hierarchical system for visual word recognition.

Original languageEnglish
Article number42
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Issue number1 FEB
Publication statusPublished - Feb 10 2014


  • Attentional focusing
  • Phonological decoding
  • Reading aloud
  • Spatial cueing
  • Visual word recognition
  • Visuo-spatial attention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Neurology
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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