I’ve previously talked about the Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde uinervtisy hoax. The study described in that hoax has recently been carried out by a team at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the University of Durham. The data conclusively demonstrates that the hoax is incorrect.

The hoax claimed that transposing letters within a word did not slow reading performance because we recognize words as whole shapes. The team led by Keith Rayner found that all kinds of letter transpositions slow reading speed. Transposing internal letters as shown in the original hoax resulted in a reading speed decline from 255 words per minute (wpm) to 227 words per minute. Performance was worse if the transposition included the beginning or final letters of a word.

 

Example Sentence

Reading Speed

Normal

The boy could not solve the problem so he asked for help.

255 wpm

Internal letters

The boy cuold not slove the probelm so he aksed for help.

227 wpm

Final letters

The boy coudl not solev the problme so he askde for help.

189 wpm

Beginning letters

The boy oculd not oslve the rpoblem so he saked for help.

163 wpm

Additionally this study examined readers’ eye movements while reading these different conditions. They found that readers needed to spend more time fixating on words in the transposition conditions and made more regressive saccades.

This study only looked at letter transpositions of a single position, like the kinds used in the original hoax. I can only speculate how dramatically reading speed would be hurt with more dramatic transpositions like:

The boy cluod not svloe the pelborm so he aeksd for help.

Hopefully this study puts the hoax to rest. This and many other studies have made it clear that we don’t recognize words by whole shapes, but use letter information to recognize words.

Cheers, Kevin Larson

Rayner, K., White, S., Johnson, R., Liversedge, S. (2006). Raeding Wrods With Jubmled Lettres; There Is a Cost. Psychological Science 17(3), 192-193.