When reading a text, readers make a series of fixations from one word to the next so that the majority of words are fixated at least once. When fixating a word, readers visually attend to the fixated word in order to recognize it and comprehend its meaning in context. Readers also glean information from the word available in the parafovea around the fixated word. The area around the fixation point from which useful information for reading is extracted is here called the attentional span. It refers to the text area utilized from moment to moment in the ongoing text comprehension process. Attentional span can maximally cover the size of the perceptual span, but it is more limited when extra attentional resources are brought to bear. The main claim in my presentation is that attentional span fluctuates from moment to moment as a result of current processing demands and text and reader characteristics. I will present evidence in support of this claim. The key methods to examine fluctuations in attentional span are the moving window paradigm (McConkie & Rayner, 1975) and the gaze-contingent display change paradigm (Rayner, 1975). In the moving window paradigm, a text window of chosen width moves along with the eyes so that the text within the window is intact but the text outside the window is in some way mutilated. Manipulating the size of text window and measuring when reading proceeds equally smoothly as in the no-window condition may be used to assess the size of the attentional span. In the display change paradigm, a critical area (typically a word) in the text is initially replaced with incorrect text information, which may or may not resemble in some way the correct word. The incorrect preview is only available in the parafovea. During the saccade launched to the critical word the preview is changed to its intended form. The extent to which readers attend to the parafoveally available preview is another way to assess the attentional span. In my presentation, I will go over how local processing demands (e.g., difficulty in word identification or in syntactic parsing), text features (e.g., spaced versus unspaced compound words), integrative processing at sentence level, global processing demands (e.g., reading goal and text difficulty), and individual differences (e.g., reading ability) influence the size of the attentional span. The overall message I wish to convey is that instead of debating whether word processing in reading is genuinely serial or parallel in nature, it is more fruitful to study the moment-to-moment fluctuations of the attentional span. Deeper understanding on the minute workings of visual attention during reading is likely to advance our understanding of the issue of serial versus parallel processing.
About the Speaker
Jukka Hyönä received his PhD degree in psychology in 1993 from the University of Turku (Finland), where he now serves as a professor of psychology and as the Head of the Psychology division.
His main research focus is on the use of the eye-tracking method to study various visually based cognitive tasks, including, reading and text comprehension, multiple object tracking, attentional capture and recognition of peripherally presented stimuli. The emphasis is on capturing how processing of visual stimuli evolves over time. To date, his most significant scientific contributions have been made to the study of how the eyes (and visual attention) are guided through a written text. In that domain, his studies tap into different levels of written language comprehension – from word recognition via sentence parsing to comprehension of long expository texts. He has also applied the method to study attentional processes and eye guidance during reading. His research has been published in journals such as Journal of Memory and Language, Psychological Science, and Cognitive Psychology. He has published about 100 articles in peer-reviewed journals.
Together with Johanna Kaakinen, he has been one of the first to apply the eye-tracking method to investigate the processing of long expository texts as well as learning from authentic illustrated textbooks (in collaboration with Matti Hannus). Together with Manuel Calvo and Lauri Nummenmaa, he has successfully applied the method to examine whether peripherally presented emotional scenes capture the visual attention. Moreover, Oksama and Hyönä put forth a mathematically formulated model (MOMIT) of multiple identity tracking. At the moment, they are testing the seriality assumption of the model with eye movement registrations.