Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Keith Horton

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


The perceptual strategies used by a skilled reader have been a controversial issue and the procedures by which readers identify words have not been clearly defined (Horton. 1989; Kolers & Roediger, 1984; Masson, in press; Tardif & Craik, 1989). The role of word shape remains unclear. Rudnicky and Kolers (1984) suggested that lowercase text may be processed more fluently than uppercase print because the reader may take advantage of features such as the pattern of extensions above and below midline provided by the lowercase letters. It may be that processing of lowercase text includes the utilization of a well-practiced shape sensing skill. With uppercase text the reader may apply a different set of strategies since this typography does not provide the reader with these additional shape features. The purpose of the present experiments was to assess the effect of word shape as manipulated by lower and uppercase letters in word identification. We have chosen six different word shape manipulations (fonts) consisting of regular as well as irregular word shape. Fonts l through 3 (lowercase. uppercase and alternating case, respectively) define the limits of our word shape manipulation, whereas Fonts 4 through 6 manipulate regular word shape by specific lower and uppercase letter positions. In Experiment 1 we assess the influence of these different fonts with paragraphs providing context information. Results indicated significantly faster processing for the lowercase text than either uppercase or alternating case typography and the equivalent speeds of regular lowercase and Font 6 suggested the importance of lettercase in shape defining positions. In Experiment 2 we attempt to focus encoding more specifically on perceptual features (word shape) by utilizing a list of 20 unrelated words. Results illustrated no effect of font. Experiment 3 utilized a list of 60 unrelated words and results showed a significant effect of font. However, surprisingly, uppercase words indicated a faster processing trend (approaching significance) than lowercase words. We discuss the possible implications of these findings and suggest some directions for future research.

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