Effect of pattern complexity on the visual span for Chinese and alphabet characters

Hui Wang, Xuanzi He, Gordon E. Legge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


The visual span for reading is the number of letters that can be recognized without moving the eyes and is hypothesized to impose a sensory limitation on reading speed. Factors affecting the size of the visual span have been studied using alphabet letters. There may be common constraints applying to recognition of other scripts. The aim of this study was to extend the concept of the visual span to Chinese characters and to examine the effect of the greater complexity of these characters. We measured visual spans for Chinese characters and alphabet letters in the central vision of bilingual subjects. Perimetric complexity was used as a metric to quantify the pattern complexity of binary character images. The visual span tests were conducted with four sets of stimuli differing in complexity-lowercase alphabet letters and three groups of Chinese characters.We found that the size of visual spans decreased with increasing complexity, ranging from 10.5 characters for alphabet letters to 4.5 characters for the most complex Chinese characters studied. A decomposition analysis revealed that crowding was the dominant factor limiting the size of the visual span, and the amount of crowding increased with complexity. Errors in the spatial arrangement of characters (mislocations) had a secondary effect. We conclude that pattern complexity has a major effect on the size of the visual span, mediated in large part by crowding. Measuring the visual span for Chinese characters is likely to have high relevance to understanding visual constraints on Chinese reading performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number6
JournalJournal of vision
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2014


  • Chinese character recognition
  • Complexity
  • Crowding
  • Peripheral vision
  • Reading
  • Visual span
  • chinese reading


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