The Influence of Reading Expertise in Mirror-Letter Perception: Evidence From Beginning and Expert Readers


Address correspondence to Jon Andoni Duñabeitia, Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language (BCBL), Paseo Mikeletegi 69, 2nd Floor, 20009 Donostia, Spain; e-mail:


The visual word recognition system recruits neuronal systems originally developed for object perception which are characterized by orientation insensitivity to mirror reversals. It has been proposed that during reading acquisition beginning readers have to “unlearn” this natural tolerance to mirror reversals in order to efficiently discriminate letters and words. Therefore, it is supposed that this unlearning process takes place in a gradual way and that reading expertise modulates mirror-letter discrimination. However, to date no supporting evidence for this has been obtained. We present data from an eye-movement study that investigated the degree of sensitivity to mirror-letters in a group of beginning readers and a group of expert readers. Participants had to decide which of the two strings presented on a screen corresponded to an auditorily presented word. Visual displays always included the correct target word and one distractor word. Results showed that those distractors that were the same as the target word except for the mirror lateralization of two internal letters attracted participants' attention more than distractors created by replacement of 2 internal letters. Interestingly, the time course of the effects was found to be different for the 2 groups, with beginning readers showing a greater tolerance (decreased sensitivity) to mirror-letters than expert readers. Implications of these findings are discussed within the framework of preceding evidence showing how reading expertise modulates letter identification.