Deficient letter-shape knowledge and awareness despite massive visual experience

June 14, 2018, Johns Hopkins University
Credit: GearedBull Jim Hood (Public Domain)

Despite seeing it in nearly every book, newspaper, and email message, people are essentially unaware of the more common version of the lowercase print letter g, Johns Hopkins researchers have found. Most people don't even know that two forms of the letter—the open-tail one usually handwritten and the looptail one seen in typed materials—exist. And if they do, they can't write the typeset one we typically see. They can't even pick it out from a lineup.

The findings, which suggest the important role writing plays in learning letters, appear in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception & Performance. "We think that if we look at something enough, especially if we have to pay attention to its shape as we do during reading, then we would know what it looks like. But our results suggest that's not always the case," says Johns Hopkins cognitive scientist Michael McCloskey, the study's senior author. "What we think may be happening here is that we learn the shapes of most letters in part because we have to write them in school. Looptail g is something we're never taught to write."

To test people's awareness of the looptail g, the researchers conducted a three-part experiment. First, they asked 38 adults to list lowercase letters with two print variations. Just two named g, and only one could write both forms correctly. Next, the researchers asked 16 new participants to silently read a paragraph filled with looptail g's but to say aloud each word with a g. Immediately after participants finished, having paid particular attention to each of 14 g's, they were asked to write the g that they just saw 14 times. Half of them wrote the wrong type. The others attempted to write a looptail version, but only one could. Finally, the team asked 25 participants to identify the correct looptail g in a multiple-choice test with four options. Just seven succeeded.

This outlier g seems to demonstrate that our knowledge of letters can suffer when we don't write them. And as we write less and become more dependent on electronic devices, the researchers wonder about the implications for reading. "What about children who are just learning to read? Do they have a little bit more trouble with this form of g because they haven't been forced to pay attention to it and write it?" McCloskey says. "Our findings give us an intriguing way of looking at questions about the importance of writing for reading."

Credit: Johns Hopkins University

Credit: Len Turner and Dave Schmelick

Explore further: Researchers find letter we've seen millions of times, yet can't write

More information: The Devil's in the g-tails: Deficient letter-shape knowledge and awareness despite massive visual experience. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. Advance online publication.
dx.doi.org/10.1037/xhp0000532

Related Stories

Researchers find letter we've seen millions of times, yet can't write

April 3, 2018
Despite seeing it millions of times in pretty much every picture book, every novel, every newspaper and every email message, people are essentially unaware of the more common version of the lowercase print letter "g," Johns ...

Culture shapes the brain: How reading changes the way we think

April 23, 2018
From a research perspective, reading and writing is a fascinating phenomenon. After all, the first writing systems date back less than 6,000 years – the blink of an eye in the timescale of human evolution. How the human ...

Researchers report technique that enables patient with 'word blindness' to read again

January 3, 2014
In the journal Neurology, researchers report a novel technique that enables a patient with "word blindness" to read again.

Toddlers begin learning rules of reading, writing at very early age, study finds

July 25, 2017
Even the proudest of parents may struggle to find some semblance of meaning behind the seemingly random mish-mash of letters that often emerge from a toddler's first scribbled and scrawled attempts at putting words on paper.

Say what? How the brain separates our ability to talk and write

May 5, 2015
Out loud, someone says, "The man is catching a fish." The same person then takes pen to paper and writes, "The men is catches a fish."

The link between the visual perception of letters and numbers and children's academic performance

August 13, 2015
Has your child ever had trouble deciphering a 3, 7, or 9? What about recognising a G, Q or Z?

Recommended for you

Even toddlers weigh risks, rewards when making choices

September 21, 2018
Every day, adults conduct cost-benefit analyses in some form for decisions large and small, economic and personal: Bring a lunch or go out? Buy or rent? Remain single or start a family? All are balances of risk and reward.

Early warning sign of psychosis detected

September 21, 2018
Brains of people at risk of psychosis exhibit a pattern that can help predict whether they will go on to develop full-fledged schizophrenia, a new Yale-led study shows. The findings could help doctors begin early intervention ...

Quitting junk food produces similar withdrawal-type symptoms as drug addiction

September 20, 2018
If you plan to try and quit junk food, expect to suffer similar withdrawal-type symptoms—at least during the initial week—like addicts experience when they attempt to quit using drugs.

In depression the brain region for stress control is larger

September 20, 2018
Although depression is one of the leading psychiatric disorders in Germany, its cause remains unclear. A recent study at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI CBS) in Leipzig, Germany, found ...

American girls read and write better than boys

September 20, 2018
As early as the fourth grade, girls perform better than boys on standardized tests in reading and writing, and as they get older that achievement gap widens even more, according to research published by the American Psychological ...

Mindfulness meditation: 10 minutes a day improves cognitive function

September 19, 2018
Practising mindfulness meditation for 10 minutes a day improves concentration and the ability to keep information active in one's mind, a function known as "working memory". The brain achieves this by becoming more efficient, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.