Undersweep-fixations during reading in adults and children
PARKER A., Kirkby J., Slattery T.
Return-sweeps take a reader’s fixation from the end of one line to the start of the next. Return-sweeps frequently undershoot their target and are followed by a corrective saccade towards the left margin. The pauses prior to correctives saccades are typically considered to be uninvolved in linguistic processing. However, recent findings indicate that these undersweep-fixations influence skilled adult reader’s subsequent reading pass across the line and provide preview of line-initial words. This research examined these effects in children. First, a children’s reading corpus analysis revealed that words receiving an undersweep-fixation were more likely skipped and received shorter gaze durations during a subsequent pass. Second, a novel eye movement experiment which directly compared adults’ and children’s eye movements indicated that, during an undersweep-fixation, readers very briefly allocate their attention to the fixated word—as indicated by inhibition of return effects during a subsequent pass—prior to deploying attention towards the line-initial word. We argue that, prior to the redeployment of attention, readers extract information at the point of fixation that facilitates later encoding and saccade targeting. Given similar patterns of results for adults and children, we conclude that the mechanisms controlling for oculomotor coordination and attention necessary for reading across line boundaries are established from a very early point in reading development.