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J Vis. 2015 Jan 14;15(1):15.1.8. doi: 10.1167/15.1.8.

How the visual aspects can be crucial in reading acquisition? The intriguing case of crowding and developmental dyslexia.

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Developmental and Cognitive Neuroscience Lab, Department of General Psychology, University of Padua, Padua, Italy Child Psychopathology Unit, Scientific Institute, IRCCS Eugenio Medea, Lecco, Italy.


Developmental dyslexia (DD) is the most common neurodevelopmental disorder (about 10% of children across cultures) characterized by severe difficulties in learning to read. According to the dominant view, DD is considered a phonological processing impairment that might be linked to a cross-modal, letter-to-speech sound integration deficit. However, new theories-supported by consistent data-suggest that mild deficits in low-level visual and auditory processing can lead to DD. This evidence supports the probabilistic and multifactorial approach for DD. Among others, an interesting visual deficit that is often associated with DD is excessive visual crowding. Crowding is defined as difficulty in the ability to recognize objects when surrounded by similar items. Crowding, typically observed in peripheral vision, could be modulated by attentional processes. The direct consequence of stronger crowding on reading is the inability to recognize letters when they are surrounded by other letters. This problem directly translates to reading at a slower speed and being more prone to making errors while reading. Our aim is to review the literature supporting the important role of crowding in DD. Moreover, we are interested in proposing new possible studies in order to clarify whether the observed excessive crowding could be a cause rather than an effect of DD. Finally, we also suggest possible remediation and even prevention programs that could be based on reducing the crowding in children with or at risk for DD without involving any phonological or orthographic training.


action video games; crowding; noise exclusion; perceptual learning; reading disorder; selective attention

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