Variability of eye movements in whole-text reading when comparing reading for meaning and proofreading
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Eye movements in reading have been studied intensively, but only a small portion of research has investigated reading for meaning of whole texts. Most studies have used tasks that involve smaller units of language and methods of stimuli presentation that are dissimilar to naturally occurring reading situations. Hence, little is known about properties of eye movements during normal reading. Preliminary evidence suggests that normal reading—reading done with the goal of comprehending a text—may be characterized by increased variability in eye movements. In order to test this idea, a novel experimental paradigm was devised that compares reading for meaning to proofreading (i.e., searching for spelling errors). To preclude participants (n=10) in the proofreading condition from reading for meaning, stimulus texts were selected to be both difficult and uninteresting to participants (undergraduate students in the health sciences). Accordingly, the novel paradigm has been termed the “difficult, uninteresting text” (DUT) task. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether eye movements while reading a complete text were more variable during reading for meaning as compared to proofreading. The secondary purpose of the study was to determine the usefulness of the DUT paradigm. Variability of fixation durations and the number of fixations were analyzed by means of a linear mixed model using a 4-way ANOVA. Results showed that that eye movements in the reading for meaning condition were more variable than the proofreading condition; however, this was only the case when participants read the same text for both conditions, and only for one of the two stimuli texts. These results suggest potential viability of the DUT paradigm, and of the hypothesis that reading for meaning is associated with higher variability of eye movements than reading not done for meaning. They also support existing theories of reading as a complex activity in which variability is introduced by a range of variables, such as textual differences.