In a masked priming procedure manipulating orthographic neighbourhood size, the priming word activates a number of word candidates of which the target could be one. Whether the target is one of the candidates or not determines how quickly it is recognised. However, the efficiency of lexical processing may be markedly less if all possible candidates are activated. One solution to this problem is if the visual system uses prime length information to reduce the number of candidates to a more manageable amount. Here, we investigated in two masked priming experiments whether prime length and orthographic information combine to facilitate target word recognition. In Experiment 1, we showed that the efficiency of visual word recognition is not influenced by the length of primes alone. However, when combined with orthographically related primes, word length coding is preserved. In Experiment 2, we investigated whether length priming affects recognition of short and long words differently. Results showed that only short words benefit from a same-length orthographically related prime, and that the priming effect does not generalise to longer words. These results suggest that the length of a word is not an essential feature in lexical processing, but that it can facilitate recognition by constraining the activation of orthographically related words.
Skarratt, P. A., McDonald, S., & Lavidor, M. (2008). Evidence for word length coding during visual word recognition. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 20(1), 12-32. https://doi.org/10.1080/09541440601046647