Researchers find predictability of words affects reading fluency

13 October 2016

Researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) have found that the human brain processes the words in a sentence even before the eyes finish reading it - the more predictable the words to come, the more quickly a sentence can be absorbed.

If a reader does not understand a word or the context in which it appears, the eyes become fixated on the word and do not move along to the next sentence, making reading less fluent.

In languages that read from left to right, the word immediately to the right of the fixated word is known as the ‘parafoveal’ word. In two experiments tracking eye movements during reading, researchers led by psychologist Dr Christopher Hand investigated effects of target word predictability, frequency, and parafoveal preview.

The findings suggested that the context of a sentence is very important to lexical processing in reading. The research showed that highly predictable words are fixated for shorter durations and less often; a fluent reader will skip over words such as ‘the’ and ‘if’ when they appear in a sentence which has plenty of additional contextual information.

Dr Hand said: “We were looking at how you read and how much you are thinking about what comes next and how that process is affected by more challenging words. We constructed various sentences with complex and nonsense target words to see if those words are processed differently, and found that the eyes need to be presented with the right context and predictable words so that the brain knows what is coming next. To remove that ‘preview’ information makes reading drastically different. This could have interesting implications for research into dyslexia.”