Capacity Limitations in Visual Word Processing

Paul A. Mullin, Howard E. Egeth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The ability of subjects to process English words in a spatially parallel manner was examined in several redundant-target detection tasks. When redundant targets were identical in a given display, processing limitations were evident in a task that required subjects to make semantic categorizations of words. However, parallel processing of identical redundant target words was exhibited in a lexical decision task that required a structural analysis of letter strings, but not an analysis of word meaning. The difference in performance in the two tasks suggests that the capacity for semantic processing is limited. Analyses designed to examine whether the redundancy gain in Experiment 2 could be attributed to limited capacity processing in conjunction with positional preferences provided evidence against this possibility. In addition, these analyses suggested that the processing times for the redundant targets in Experiment 2 might be positively correlated. In the third and fourth experiments, the redundant-target displays contained two different words. Processing interference, in the form of a redundancy loss, was evident in the lexical decision task, but not in the semantic categorization task, confirming a difference in the mode of processing between the two tasks. The results provide evidence against the unlimited-capacity, parallel processing hypothesis of late selection theories of attention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)111-123
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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