A theoretical analysis of the perceptual span based on SWIFT simulations of the n+2 boundary paradigm

Sarah Risse, Sven Hohenstein, Reinhold Kliegl, Ralf Engbert

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Eye-movement experiments suggest that the perceptual span during reading is larger than the fixated word, asymmetric around the fixation position, and shrinks in size contingent on the foveal processing load. We used the SWIFT model of eye-movement control during reading to test these hypotheses and their implications under the assumption of graded parallel processing of all words inside the perceptual span. Specifically, we simulated reading in the boundary paradigm and analyzed the effects of denying the model to have valid preview of a parafoveal word n+2 two words to the right of fixation. Optimizing the model parameters for the valid preview condition only, we obtained span parameters with remarkably realistic estimates conforming to the empirical findings on the size of the perceptual span. More importantly, the SWIFT model generated parafoveal processing up to word n+2 without fitting the model to such preview effects. Our results suggest that asymmetry and dynamic modulation are plausible properties of the perceptual span in a parallel word-processing model such as SWIFT. Moreover, they seem to guide the flexible distribution of processing resources during reading between foveal and parafoveal words.

Visual Cognition