The research, conducted by Elizabeth Sacchi at Binghamton University, State University of New York, is part of the National Science Foundation-funded Reading Brain Project. The project studies how children’s brains behave as they read. Sacchi’s research is the first of its kind in the US to look at what happens inside the brain as children read letters which are spaced variously.
Researchers think the improved reading of children who read words with letters spaced farther apart is not due to visual processing. Children at the very beginning stages of reading don’t show much change in reading ability when letters are spaced farther apart. But as the reading gets more advanced, reading improvement can be seen.
This US study backs up a European study of six years ago which showed that more space between letters can help children identified as dyslexic read 20% faster. In that study, not only was the space between letters expanded, but the space between lines was expanded.
The Italian researchers think increased spacing helps dyslexic children overcome an effect called “crowding.” Crowding makes letters hard to identify when the letters are placed close to other letters.
Children without reading problems showed no benefit when reading the more widely spaced letters and lines in the European study.
For more information on the American study, go to Elizabeth Sacchi et al, An Event-Related Potential Study of Letter Spacing during Visual Word Recognition, Brain Research (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.brainres.2018.01.028. For more information on the European study, go to the Proceedings of the American Academy of Science, 2012.
[Another way to increase the readability of words is to increase the size of the half-space letters, as in the first example above. For more information, see an earlier blog.]