Eye movements during text reading align with the rate of speech production

Benjamin Gagl, Klara Gregorova, Julius Golch, Stefan Hawelka, Jona Sassenhagen, Alessandro Tavano, David Poeppel, Christian J. Fiebach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Across languages, the speech signal is characterized by a predominant modulation of the amplitude spectrum between about 4.3 and 5.5 Hz, reflecting the production and processing of linguistic information chunks (syllables and words) every ~200 ms. Interestingly, ~200 ms is also the typical duration of eye fixations during reading. Prompted by this observation, we demonstrate that German readers sample written text at ~5 Hz. A subsequent meta-analysis of 142 studies from 14 languages replicates this result and shows that sampling frequencies vary across languages between 3.9 Hz and 5.2 Hz. This variation systematically depends on the complexity of the writing systems (character-based versus alphabetic systems and orthographic transparency). Finally, we empirically demonstrate a positive correlation between speech spectrum and eye movement sampling in low-skilled non-native readers, with tentative evidence from post hoc analysis suggesting the same relationship in low-skilled native readers. On the basis of this convergent evidence, we propose that during reading, our brain’s linguistic processing systems imprint a preferred processing rate—that is, the rate of spoken language production and perception—onto the oculomotor system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)429-442
Number of pages14
JournalNature human behaviour
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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