The effect of decreased interletter spacing on orthographic processing

Veronica Montani, Andrea Facoetti, Marco Zorzi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is growing interest in how perceptual factors such as the spacing between letters within words modulate performance in visual word recognition and reading aloud. Extra-large letter spacing can strongly improve the reading performance of dyslexic children, and a small increase with respect to the standard spacing seems beneficial even for skilled word recognition in adult readers. In the present study we examined the effect of decreased letter spacing on perceptual identification and lexical decision tasks. Identification in the decreased spacing condition was slower than identification of normally spaced strings, thereby confirming that the reciprocal interference among letters located in close proximity (crowding) poses critical constraints on visual word processing. Importantly, the effect of spacing was not modulated by string length, suggesting that the locus of the spacing effect is at the level of letter detectors. Moreover, the processing of crowded letters was facilitated by top-down support from orthographic lexical representation as indicated by the fact that decreased spacing affected pseudowords significantly more than words. Conversely, in the lexical decision task only word responses were affected by the spacing manipulation. Overall, our findings support the hypothesis that increased crowding is particularly harmful for phonological decoding, thereby adversely affecting reading development in dyslexic children.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)824-832
Number of pages9
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1 2015


  • Interletter spacing
  • Lexical decision
  • Orthographic processing
  • Progressive demasking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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