Letters may be jumbled, but findings getting clearer

When reading this sentence, you are identifying the letters that form the words. You are also coding the position of those letters to be able to distinguish between words like ‘form’ and ‘from’. But, then again, it’s also interesting that you can stilil raed words when the lettres are jmbuled up and not in thier corerct psotiions.

So how does our brain make sense of some jumbled words, but not others? That’s what Western Psychology professor Stephen Lupker hopes to discover.



Lupker’s work with University of London professor Colin Davis, the lead researcher on their study How do readers code letter position?, could shed a light on what the brain is doing when reading and, in turn, provide solutions to those with dyslexia or other reading difficulties.

“The question is why does the system do that, and that’s what we’ve been working on for the last decade or so,” said Lupker, whose research is aimed at the scientific journals, such as Psychology, where other researchers can read and develop theories as for why this happens.

“The early theories of reading and word recognition were based on the idea that letter position is easy, and what the theory was based on was the idea that you basically tag the perceptions to the positions accurately, very quickly and very early,” he added. “It’s done for you. It’s the way our system is set up.”

The example Lupker uses is ‘judge’. You transpose the G and the D to make ‘jugde’, and people can read right through like it isn’t transposed at all.

“The way it’s explained is that all these early theories are wrong and that you don’t tag things to positions very early, that you often identify what the letters are before you get where they are,” he said. “So, the newer theory is based on the idea that there is this ambiguity as to where the letters are. If you do experiments, you will find a lot of people do have trouble with ‘trail’ and ‘trial’.”

Lupker said theories are now based on understanding why we have trouble coding position. What is it about the system that does that? “What you want to see is a theory that can explain why it is that you have this difficulty, and what is the extent of that difficulty,” he said. “We do have trouble with letters. Is that as far as it goes?”

Lupker pushes the thought of what if you transpose at a distance – for example ‘casino’ to ‘cnisao’ or ‘computer’ to ‘cetupmor’.

“That’s the question, how tolerant is our system of these transpositions when you start fiddling around with things?” he said. “When you’re studying the processes involved in reading, what you’re ultimately going to be doing is building a theory of how people read.”

Lupker added if other researchers see merit in his research as to how one should teach reading, remediate reading disabilities or even learn a second language, he welcomes them to take it further.

“The goal of most scientific enterprises is to understand how some system works – be it human, climate or planets – to the extent someone wants to do something with that knowledge,” he said. “I’m a bench scientist studying the system. If someone wants to take what I can give them and turn it in to a technique for teaching reading, more power to them.”