Eye tracking analysis of computer program comprehension in programmers with dyslexia

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This paper investigates the impact of dyslexia on the reading and comprehension of computer program code. Drawing upon work from the fields of program comprehension, eye tracking, dyslexia, models of reading and dyslexia gaze behaviour, a set of hypotheses is developed with which to investigate potential differences in the gaze behaviour of programmers with dyslexia compared to typical programmers. The hypotheses posit that, in general terms, programmers with dyslexia will show gaze behaviour of longer duration and a greater number of fixations on program features than typical programmers. An experiment is described in which 28 programmers (14 with dyslexia, 14 without dyslexia) were asked to read and explain three simple computer programs. Eye tracking technology is used to capture the gaze behaviour of the programmers. Data analysis suggests that the code reading behaviour of programmers with dyslexia is not what would be expected based on the dyslexia literature relating to natural text. In conjunction with further exploratory analysis, observations are made in relation to spatial differences in how programmers with dyslexia read and scan code. The results show that the gaze behaviour of programmers with dyslexia requires further study to understand effects such as code layout, identifier naming and line length. A possible impact on dyslexia gaze behaviour is from the visual crowding of features in program code which might cause certain program features to receive less attention during a program comprehension task.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1109-1154
Number of pages46
JournalEmpirical Software Engineering
Early online date10 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 15 Jun 2019


  • Computer programming
  • Dyslexia
  • Eye tracking
  • Program comprehension


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