Skip to main content

Levels of Visual Stress in Proficient Readers: Effects of Spectral Filtering of Fluorescent Lighting on Reading Discomfort

  • Stephen J. Loew (a1), Celestino Rodríguez (a2), Nigel V. Marsh (a3), Graham L. Jones (a1), Jose Carlos Núñez (a2) and Kenneth Watson (a1)...

Visual stress (VS) affects reading in 5–12% of the general population and 31–36% of children with reading disorders. Symptoms include print distortions and visual discomfort when reading, and are exacerbated by fluorescent lighting. Prior research has indicated that VS can also affect proficient readers. We therefore examined levels of visual discomfort in a group of expert readers (n = 24) under both standard and spectrally-filtered fluorescent lighting. Participants rated their awareness of six symptoms of VS under each lighting condition. Under the standard condition, 4(16.7%) of the group recorded moderate to high levels of VS. Differences in symptom levels and reading speed between conditions were analysed using the Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test. Under the filter condition, the group reported less discomfort regarding all six symptoms of VS surveyed. The differences were significant with respect to three of the symptoms (p = .029 - p < .001), with a medium effect size in all of them (r = .31 - r = .46) and total score (p = .007; r = .39). Variations in reading proficiency included significantly fewer self-corrections (p = .019) and total errors (p = .004). Here we present evidence that VS-type symptoms of reading discomfort are not confined to populations with reading difficulties and may also occur in proficient readers, and that simple adaptations to fluorescent lighting may alleviate such symptoms.

Corresponding author
*Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Stephen Loew. School of Science & Technology. University of New England. Armidale (Australia). NSW 2351. Phone: +61–429845959. Fax: +61–249845959. Email:
Hide All
Allen P. M., Evans B. J. W., & Wilkins A. J. (2012). The uses of color in optometric practice to ameliorate symptoms of visual stress. Optometry in Practice, 13, 18.
Allen P. M., & Hollis J. (2008). Meares-Irlen Syndrome – a need for increasing awareness in the general public. Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, 28, 291292.
Berman S. M., Fein G., Jewett D. L., & Ashford F. (1993). Luminance controlled pupil size affects Landolt C test performance. Journal of the Illuminating Engineering Society, 22, 150165.
Berman S. M., Fein G., Jewett D. L., Benson B. R., Law T. M., & Myers A. W. (1996). Luminance controlled pupil size affects word reading accuracy. Journal of the Illuminating Engineering Society, 25, 5159.
Boyce P. R. (1994). Is full-spectrum lighting special? In Veitch J. A. (Ed.), Full-spectrum lighting effects on performance, mood, and health. (pp. 3036). IRC Internal Report no. 659, Ottawa, Canada: National Research Council of Canada, Institute for Research in Construction.
Cohen J. W. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2 nd Ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Conlon E. G., Lovegrove W. J., Chekaluk E., & Pattison P. E. (1999). Measuring visual discomfort. Visual Cognition, 6, 637663.
Cuetos F., Rodríguez B., Ruano R., & Arribas D. (2007). PROLEC-R. Evaluación de los procesos lectores, Revisada [Reading processes test, revised]. Madrid, Spain: TEA Ediciones.
Evans B. J. W. (2001). Dyslexia and vision. London, UK: Whurr Publishers.
Evans B. J. W., & Joseph F. (2002). The effect of colored filters on the rate of reading in an adult student population. Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, 22, 535545.
Evans B. J. W., & Stevenson S. J. (2008). The Pattern Glare Test: A review and determination of normative values. Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, 28, 295309.
Evans B. J. W., Wilkins A. J., Brown J., Busby A., Wingfield A., Jeanes R., & Bald J. (1996). A preliminary investigation into the aetiology of Meares-Irlen syndrome. Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, 16, 286296.
Hollis J., & Allen P. M. (2006). Screening for Meares-Irlen sensitivity in adults: Can assessment methods predict changes in reading speed? Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, 26, 566571.
Irlen H. (1994). Scotopic sensitivity/Irlen syndrome: Hypothesis and explanation of the syndrome. Journal of Behavioral Optometry, 5, 6265.
Jeanes R., Busby A., Martin J., Lewis E., Stevenson N., Pointon D., & Wilkins A. J. (1997). Prolonged use of coloured overlays for classroom reading. British Journal of Psychology, 88, 541548.
Kriss I., & Evans B. J. W. (2005). The relationship between dyslexia and Meares-Irlen syndrome. Journal of Research in Reading, 28, 350364.
Kruk R., Sumbler K., & Willows D. (2008). Visual processing characteristics of children with Meares-Irlen syndrome. Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, 28, 3546.
Küller R., & Laike T. (1998). The impact of flicker from fluorescent lighting on well-being, performance, and physiological arousal. Ergonomics, 41, 433447.
Loew S. J., Fernández E., & Watson K. (2013). Incidence of Meares-Irlen/visual stress syndrome in reading and learning disorders: Does fluorescent lighting in classrooms affect literacy and numeracy? Aula Abierta, 41, 2332.
Loew S. J., Marsh N. V., & Watson K. (2014). The prevalence of symptoms of visual stress/Meares-Irlen syndrome in subjects diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, 14, 8792.
Loew S. J., & Watson K. (2012). Spectral filtering of fluorescent lighting: Effects upon reading and visual discomfort in slow readers. In Gonzalez-Pienda J. A., Rodriguez C., Alvarez D., Cerezo R., Fernandez E., Cueli M., & Suarez N., (Eds.), Learning disabilities: Present and future (pp. 267278). Massachusetts, MA: Learning Disabilities WorldWide®.
Loew S. J., & Watson K. (2013). The prevalence of scotopic sensitivity/Meares-Irlen syndrome in subjects diagnosed with ADHD: Does misdiagnosis play a role? Croatian Review of Rehabilitation Research, 49, 5058.
Navvab M. (2001). A comparison of visual performance under high and low color temperature fluorescent lamps. Journal of the Illuminating Engineering Society, 30, 170175.
Navvab M. (2002). Visual acuity depends on the color temperature of the surround lighting. Journal of the Illuminating Engineering Society, 31, 7084.
Northway N., Manahilov V., & Simpson W. A. (2010). Colored filters improve exclusion of perceptual noise in visually symptomatic dyslexics. Journal of Research in Reading, 33, 223230.
Ray N. J., Fowler S., & Stein J. F. (2005). Yellow filters can improve magnocellular function: Motion sensitivity, convergence, accommodation, and reading. Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 1039, 283295.
Ritchie S. J., Della Sala S., & McIntosh R. D. (2011). Irlen colored overlays do not alleviate reading difficulties. Pediatrics, 128, e932e938.
Robinson G. L. (1994). Colored lenses and reading: A review of research into reading achievement, reading strategies and causal mechanisms. Australian Journal of Special Education, 18, 314.
Robinson G. L., Hopkins B. R., & Davies T. (1995). The incidence of symptoms of Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome in secondary school populations: A preliminary study. The Bulletin for Learning Disabilities, 5, 3656.
Robinson G. L., McGregor N. R., Roberts T. K., Dunstan R. H., & Butt H. (2001). A biochemical analysis of people with chronic fatigue who have Irlen Syndrome: Speculation concerning immune system dysfunction. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 93, 486504.
Rodriguez-Pérez C., González-Castro P., Álvarez L., Álvarez D., & Fernández-Cueli M. S. (2012). Neuropsychological analysis of the difficulties in dyslexia through sensory fusion. International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, 12, 6980.
Scott L., McWhinnie H., Taylor L., Stevenson N., Irons P., Lewis L., … Wilkins A. J. (2002). Colored overlays in schools: Orthoptic and optometric findings. Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, 22, 156165.
Taurines R., Schmitt J., Renner T., Conner A. C., Warnke A., & Romanos M. (2010). Developmental comorbidity in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. ADHD-Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, 2, 267289.
Veitch J. A., & McColl S. L. (1995). On the modulation of fluorescent light: Flicker rate and spectral distribution effects on visual performance and visual comfort. Lighting Research and Technology, 27, 243256.
Veitch J. A., & McColl S. L. (2001). A critical examination of perceptual and cognitive effects attributed to full-spectrum fluorescent lighting. Ergonomics, 44, 255279.
Whiting P. R., Robinson G. L. W., & Parrott C. F. (1994). Irlen colored filters for reading: A six year follow-up. Australian Journal of Remedial Education, 26, 1319.
Wilkins A. J., & Clarke C. (1990). Modulation of light from fluorescent lamps. Lighting Research and Technology, 22, 103109.
Wilkins A. J., & Evans B. J. W. (2010). Visual stress, its treatment with spectral filters, and its relationship to visually induced motion sickness. Applied Ergonomics, 41, 509515.
Wilkins A. J., Huang J., & Cao Y. (2007). Prevention of visual stress and migraine with precision spectral filters. Drug Development Research, 68, 469475.
Wilkins A. J., Jeanes R. J., Pumfrey P. D., Laskier M. (1996). Rate of Reading Test®: Its reliability, and its validity in the assessment of the effects of colored overlays. Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, 16, 491497.
Wilkins A. J., & Wilkinson P. (1991). A tint to reduce eye-strain from fluorescent lighting? Preliminary observations. Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, 11, 172175.
Winterbottom M., & Wilkins A. J. (2009). Lighting and discomfort in the classroom. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 29, 6375.
World Medical Association. (2008, October). 7th revision of the Declaration of Helsinki: Ethical principles for medical research involving human subjects. 59th World Medical Association (WMA) General Assembly. Seoul, South Korea. Retrieved from
Wright C. M., & Conlon E. G. (2009). Auditory and visual processing in children with dyslexia. Developmental Neuropsychology, 34, 330355.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Spanish Journal of Psychology
  • ISSN: 1138-7416
  • EISSN: 1988-2904
  • URL: /core/journals/spanish-journal-of-psychology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 10
Total number of PDF views: 65 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 686 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 24th January 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.