Mind your p’s and q’s

I’ve been reading another neuroscience tome entitled “The Pleasure Center.” It’s not captivating reading but has an interesting nugget about our visual systems. It’s noted that children have difficulty in discerning the letters p, b, q and d from each other. Why is this? Because these letters are basically the same shape, just in different positions or invertions. We have the ability to recognize objects when they’re in various positions – it wouldn’t be very helpful if you could only recognize food when it was “right side up” – but that tendency works against us when identifying symbols that change meaning depending on their position.

3 Responses to “Mind your p’s and q’s”


  1. john

    I remember being confused by the “b”. “d”, “p”, and “q” as a youngster.

    “Uh . . . When it’s like this it’s ‘b’, when it’s like that it’s ‘d’, when . . . Fuck it, man, let’s sing like Joe Strummer! I HATE THE ARMY AND I HATE THE RAF! I DON’T WANNA GO A’FIGHTIN’ IN THE TROPICAL HEAT!!! That’s enough of that.”

    “Was that Dick Van Dyke?”

    “No, Mom!”

  2. Wil

    My dad claims to recall his confusion over these letters as well.

  3. john

    Yeah, I remember feeling quite anxious about it. I really had to sit down and make a deliberate effort at straightening it all out. I had a similar experience with Algebra in High School.