Font tuning associated with expertise in letter perception

Isabel GAUTHIER*, Alan C. N. WONG, William G. HAYWARD, Olivia S. CHEUNG

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


Font tuning (FT) occurs when observers recognize a sequence of letters presented in the same font faster than in different fonts (Sanocki 1987, 1988 Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 13 267-278; 14 472-480). Here, we test the hypothesis that FT is associated with expertise with a specific writing system. We developed a systematic search task allowing the measurement of FT over a large number of letters and generalized the finding of FT from English readers viewing Roman letters to Chinese readers viewing Chinese characters. Non-Chinese readers did not show evidence of FT for Chinese characters in this search task. We also used a simpler 3-letter identification task to directly compare novice and expert readers, and to explore FT for different aspects of font such as fill, slant, and aspect ratio. We found that experts tune to aspect ratio but not to the other font changes. These findings reveal that letters are not processed visually in the same manner as shapes, and suggest an explanation for the cortical specialization obtained in the visual system for letters.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)541-559
Number of pages19
Issue number4
Early online date15 Mar 2006
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2006
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Research was supported by NEI Grant R01-EY13441, a grant from the James S McDonnell Foundation to IG, and a grant from the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong SAR (Project No. HKU 4260/03H).


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