Literacy skill and intra-individual variability in eye-fixation durations during reading: Evidence from a diverse community-based adult sample

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To understand the effects of literacy on fundamental processes involved in reading, we report a secondary data analysis examining individual differences in global eye-movement measures and first-pass eye-movement distributions in a diverse sample of community-dwelling adults aged 16 to 64. Participants (n = 80) completed an assessment battery probing verbal and non-verbal cognitive abilities and read simple two-sentence passages while their eye movements were recorded. Analyses were focused on characterising the effects of literacy skill on both global indices of eye-fixation distributions and distributional differences in the sensitivity to lexical features. Global reading measures showed that lower literate adults read more slowly on average. However, distributional analyses of fixation durations revealed that the first-pass fixation durations of adults with lower literacy skill were not slower in general (i.e., there was no shift in the fixation duration distribution among lower literate adults). Instead, lower literacy was associated with greater intra-individual variability in first-pass fixation durations, including an increased proportion of extremely long fixations, differentially skewing the distribution of both first-fixation and gaze durations. Exploratory repeated-measures quantile regression analyses of gaze duration revealed differentially greater influences of word length among lower literate readers and greater activation of phonological and orthographic neighbours among higher literate readers, particularly in the tail of the distribution. Collectively, these findings suggest that literacy skill in adulthood is associated with systematic differences in both global and lexically driven eye-movement control during reading.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1841-1861
Number of pages21
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020


  • Literacy
  • eye movements
  • intra-individual variability
  • language processing
  • reading
  • word recognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Physiology
  • General Psychology


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