Aging and the optimal viewing position effect in Chinese

Substantial evidence indicates that where readers fixate within a word affects the efficiency with which that word is recognized. Indeed, words in alphabetic languages (e.g., English, French) are recognized most efficiently when fixated at their optimal viewing position (OVP), which is near the word center. However, little is known about the effects of fixation location on word recognition in non-alphabetic languages, such as Chinese. Moreover, studies to date have not investigated if effects of fixation location vary across adult age-groups, although it is well-established that older readers experience greater difficulty recognizing words due to visual and cognitive declines. Accordingly, the present research examined OVP effects by young and older adult readers when recognizing Chinese words presented in isolation. Most words in Chinese are formed from two or more logograms called characters and so the present experiment investigated the influence of fixation location on the recognition of 2-, 3-, and 4-character words (and nonwords). The older adults experienced generally greater word recognition difficulty. But whereas the young adults recognized words most efficiently when initially fixating the first character of 2-character words and second character of 3- and 4-character words, the older adults recognized words most efficiently when initially fixating the first character for words of each length. The findings therefore reveal subtle but potentially important adult age differences in the effects of fixation location on Chinese word recognition. Moreover, the similarity in effects for words and nonwords implies a more general age-related change in oculomotor strategy when processing Chinese character-strings.