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Neuropsychologia. 2011 Oct;49(12):3454-65. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.08.021. Epub 2011 Aug 31.

Slow perceptual processing at the core of developmental dyslexia: a parameter-based assessment of visual attention.

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1
Clinical Linguistics & Center of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC), Bielefeld University, Bielefeld, Germany. prisca.stenneken@uni-bielefeld.de

Abstract

The cognitive causes as well as the neurological and genetic basis of developmental dyslexia, a complex disorder of written language acquisition, are intensely discussed with regard to multiple-deficit models. Accumulating evidence has revealed dyslexics' impairments in a variety of tasks requiring visual attention. The heterogeneity of these experimental results, however, points to the need for measures that are sufficiently sensitive to differentiate between impaired and preserved attentional components within a unified framework. This first parameter-based group study of attentional components in developmental dyslexia addresses potentially altered attentional components that have recently been associated with parietal dysfunctions in dyslexia. We aimed to isolate the general attentional resources that might underlie reduced span performance, i.e., either a deficient working memory storage capacity, or a slowing in visual perceptual processing speed, or both. Furthermore, by analysing attentional selectivity in dyslexia, we addressed a potential lateralized abnormality of visual attention, i.e., a previously suggested rightward spatial deviation compared to normal readers. We investigated a group of high-achieving young adults with persisting dyslexia and matched normal readers in an experimental whole report and a partial report of briefly presented letter arrays. Possible deviations in the parametric values of the dyslexic compared to the control group were taken as markers for the underlying deficit. The dyslexic group showed a striking reduction in perceptual processing speed (by 26% compared to controls) while their working memory storage capacity was in the normal range. In addition, a spatial deviation of attentional weighting compared to the control group was confirmed in dyslexic readers, which was larger in participants with a more severe dyslexic disorder. In general, the present study supports the relevance of perceptual processing speed in disorders of written language acquisition and demonstrates that the parametric assessment provides a suitable tool for specifying the underlying deficit within a unitary framework.

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