Low Vision News

For low vision specialists and those who consult them

Journal article: Perceptual learning increases reading speed (in young control subjects reading with peripheral retina)

There is an interesting article in this month’s Vision Research by Yu and colleagues which examines training reading performance in the peripheral retina of people without eye disease. The idea of this study is to see whether training may be useful for people with macular disease who must use their peripheral retina to read.

The authors recruited university students and trained them to read with an eccentric part of the visual field (10º below the centre of the vision) for one hour a day for four days. This training consisted of either reading words presented one at a time; making a judgement over whether three letters were a word or not (a lexical decision task – eg. “is ‘twe’ a word?”); or identifying letters which appeared on a screen. They also had a control group who did not receive any training.

Reading speed increased after all of the training procedures – with a mean improvement in reading speed of 72% in those who practiced reading words with peripheral retina; 54% in those who practised identifying letters; and 39% in those who performed the lexical decision task. This improvement transferred to letters of a different size and to different (nontrained) locations of the peripheral visual field.

Does this mean that this training would be useful for people with macular disease? Not necessarily. The subjects performing this experiment had good central vision and were much younger than most people with macular disease. More significantly, this would have been the first time that they read with peripheral retina: those with macular disease are forced to use their peripheral retina all of the time and may already be “trained” to read as well as is possible with noncentral retina.

I think the most important finding from this study is that that the lexical decision making task seems to increase reading speed. It would be very exciting if this type of task improved reading for people with macular disease as this word/nonword judgement is something which could be easily performed by patients at home using a laptop computer. I look forward to seeing more work from this group on whether the effect is as strong in people with eye disease as it is in their subjects with good vision.

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