“On the outside, the reader has rotated his eyes only a few millimeters … But on the inside, there has been a rapid succession of intricate events. Clearly, this succession could only be the product of a complex information processing system … It contains components that are asked to perform amazing feats with amazing rapidity, and precisely in concert.” – Gough (1972, p. 341)
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Carl Sagan (1980) argued that reading is “perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other” and allowing one to be “inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years.” My research attempts to understand the mental processes that allow this to happen. Put another way, my research attempts to answer the question: How are vision, attention, memory, and language processing coordinated to support our amazing capacity to read? My motivation here is twofold.
The first is that reading plays a critical role in the functioning of any democratically healthy, technologically advanced society. It therefore stands to reason that one might contribute to the betterment of society by advancing our understanding of how to teach this critical skill. My research, in collaboration with my colleagues, makes a modest contribution to this end.
The second is that reading provides an ideal “lens” through which to examine how perception and cognition are coordinated to support skilled reading. These mental processes minimally include the visual and attentional processing required to encode the printed forms of words so that their pronunciations and meanings can be accessed from memory, as well as the linguistic processing required to understand the individual sentences and discourse.
Because these processes are extremely complex, my research uses two complementary methodologies: computer modelling and eye-tracking experiments. Computer models allow one to test hypotheses that are otherwise too complex to reason about (e.g., see Hintzman, 1991), while eye-tracking experiments allow one to measure cognition as it is occurring, in a non-invasive and ecological valid manner (e.g., see Rayner, 1998).
If you would like to learn more about my research or would like e-copies of any of my research publications, please e-mail me. My new book, Computational Models of Reading: A Handbook, is available from Oxford University Press. My forthcoming book on the reading of Chinese (in collaboration with Lili Yu) will be available in 2023.