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Age-related changes in the visual, oculomotor, and cognitive mechanisms underlying reading

   Department of Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour

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  Dr V McGowan, Dr Sarah White  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Reading is a skill that is fundamentally important for individuals to actively and successfully participate in everyday life. Reading is also a complex cognitive and visual task, which necessitates the accurate programming and execution of eye movements, rapid identification of intricate visual patterns, and swift integration of individual letters and words to build a cohesive understanding of a text. Determining how reading changes during healthy, normative older age, including in response to typical age-related changes in cognition and vision, is fundamental to efforts to ensure that individuals read successfully across the lifespan.

Previous research has shown that reading is slower in older adults (aged 65+ years) than young adults (aged 18-35 years) (Paterson et al., 2020; Rayner et al., 2006). Recordings of individuals’ eye movements during reading have provided a detailed understanding of the mechanisms that underlie this age-related slowdown. Such recordings are an incredibly useful tool for understanding reading, as eye movements reflect the moment-by-moment cognitive processes that happen in the brain during reading and can be measured within a relatively naturalistic reading environment. Studies have shown that the eye movements of older readers differ from those of other groups of slower readers (e.g. less skilled young adult readers, readers with dyslexia). This indicates that there are distinctive age-related changes in the processes underlying reading. Multiple contributing factors to such changes have been established, including visual declines and slowdowns in the identification of words.

To date the focus of research examining age-related changes in eye movement behaviour during reading has been on the “young-old”, i.e. those aged 65-79 years. Relatively few “older-old” readers (aged 80+ years) have been included in previous studies, and to date no studies have sought to compare young-old and older-old readers. This is despite evidence that cognitive, visual, oculomotor, and language abilities continue to change throughout older age. Determining how the cognitive mechanisms underlying reading change during normative older-old age will provide a much more comprehensive understanding of age-related changes in reading.

Aims & objectives

The aim of this project is to determine how and why the mechanisms underlying reading differ between young adults (18-35 years), young-old adults (65-79 years) and older-old adults (80+ years). This will be met through two key objectives:

  • Determine how key aspects of reading (e.g. reading speed), and eye movement behaviour during reading (e.g. how many backwards movements are made to reinspect text) differ between young adults (18-35 years), young-old adults (65-79 years) and older-old adults (80+ years).
  • Determine how cognitive, visual, oculomotor, and language abilities contribute to changes in reading between young adults (18-35 years), young-old adults (65-79 years) and older-old adults (80+ years).


Four experiments will be conducted with approximately 50 participants in each age group. In each experiment participants will read sentences from a computer while their eye movements are recorded with an eye tracker. Text characteristics (e.g. how commonly words occur in the language, visual contrast of text against its background) will be manipulated in each experiment to further examine cognitive processes during reading. Participants will undergo standardised tests for cognitive, visual, and language abilities.

Entry Requirements:

  • Those who have a 1st or a 2.1 undergraduate degree in a relevant field are eligible.
  • Evidence of quantitative training is required. For example, AS or A level Maths, IB Standard or Higher Maths, or university level maths/statistics course.
  • Those who have a 2.2 and an additional Masters degree in a relevant field may be eligible.
  • Those who have a 2.2 and at least three years post-graduate experience in a relevant field may be eligible.
  • Those with degrees abroad (perhaps as well as postgraduate experience) may be eligible if their qualifications are deemed equivalent to any of the above.

For further information please contact [Email Address Removed]

Application advice:

To apply please refer the application instructions at

You will need to apply for the PhD place at University of Leicester and also submit your online application notification to MIBTP.  Links for both are on the above web page.

Project / Funding Enquiries: For further information please contact [Email Address Removed]

Application enquiries to [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

All MIBTP students will be provided with a 4 years studentship.
Studentships include:
Tuition fees at UK rate*
• a tax free stipend of at least £15,609* p.a (to rise in line with UKRI recommendation)
• a travel allowance in year 1
• a travel / conference budget
• a generous consumables budget
• use of a laptop for the duration of the programme.
* International students are welcome to apply but must be able to fund the difference between UK
and International fees for the duration of their studies.


1. Paterson, K.B., McGowan, V.A., Warrington, K.L., Li, L., Li, S., Xie, F., Chang, M., Zhao, S., Pagan, A., White, S.J., Wang, J. (2020). Effects of normative aging on eye movements during reading. Vision, 4(1), 7.
2. Rayner, K., Reichle, E., Stroud, M., Williams, C., & Pollatsek, A. (2006). The effect of word frequency, word predictability, and font difficulty on the eye movements of young and older readers. Psychology and Aging, 21, 448-465.
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