The effects of alphabet and expertise on letter perception

Robert W. Wiley, Colin Wilson, Brenda Rapp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Long-standing questions in human perception concern the nature of the visual features that underlie letter recognition and the extent to which the visual processing of letters is affected by differences in alphabets and levels of viewer expertise. We examined these issues in a novel approach using a same-different judgment task on pairs of letters from the Arabic alphabet with 2 participant groups: 1 with no prior exposure to Arabic and 1 with reading proficiency. Hierarchical clustering and linear mixed-effects modeling of reaction times and accuracy provide evidence that both the specific characteristics of the alphabet and observers' previous experience with it affect how letters are perceived and visually processed. The findings of this research further our understanding of the multiple factors that affect letter perception and support the view of a visual system that dynamically adjusts its weighting of visual features as expert readers come to more efficiently and effectively discriminate the letters of the specific alphabet they are viewing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1186-1203
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016


  • Arabic alphabet
  • Expertise
  • Letter perception
  • Reading
  • Visual features

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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