Authors: Pegado, F., Nakamura, K., Braga, L., Ventura, P., Nunes, G., Jobert, A., et al..

Article: Literacy breaks mirror invariance for visual stimuli: a behavioral study with adult illiterates..

Publication: Journal of Experimental Psychology 143(2), 887–894 2014 | DOI: 10.1037/a0033198


The ability to recognize 2 mirror images as the same picture across left–right inversions exists early on in humans and other primates. In order to learn to read, however, one must discriminate the left–right orientation of letters and distinguish, for instance, b from d. We therefore reasoned that literacy may entail a loss of mirror invariance. To evaluate this hypothesis, we asked adult literates, illiterates, and ex-illiterates to perform a speeded same–different task with letter strings, false fonts, and pictures regardless of their orientation (i.e., they had to respond “same” to mirror pairs such as “iblo oldi”). Literates presented clear difficulties with mirror invariance. This “mirror cost” effect was strongest with letter strings, but crucially, it was also observed with false fonts and even with pictures. In contrast, illiterates did not present any cost for mirror pairs. Interestingly, subjects who learned to read as adults also exhibited a mirror cost, suggesting that modest reading practice, late in life, can suffice to break mirror invariance.

Tagged as: mirror generalization

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