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COGNITIVE NEUROPSYCHOLOGY, 2006, 23 (4), 621 – 642

Visual and auditory processing and component reading


skills in developmental dyslexia

Lisa Y. Gibson, John H. Hogben, and Janet Fletcher


The University of Western Australia, Crawley, Australia

Previous research suggests that children with developmental dyslexia have low-level visual and
auditory deficits. The present study further examines these proposed deficits and how they relate to
component reading skills. Children with dyslexia and control children were administered measures
of visual and auditory processing and a battery of reading tasks, including nonword and irregular-
word reading, as measures of phonological and orthographic skills. Significant group differences
were found on all visual and auditory tasks. However, at an individual level only a minority of dyslexics
had visual and auditory deficits. In both dyslexics and controls, visual processing was not related to
component reading skills, while weak associations were found between auditory processing and pho-
nological decoding skills. The results of the present study suggest that dyslexia is not characterized by
core deficits in visual and auditory processing. The results are discussed in terms of a general nonsen-
sory problem with task completion.

Developmental dyslexia refers to the condition of Visual deficits in dyslexia


individuals who, despite average or above-
One of the more traditional and long-standing
average intelligence, adequate educational oppor- theories about dyslexia, albeit controversial, is
tunity, and absence of behavioural, emotional, or the magnocellular (magno) deficit hypothesis
organic disorders, have a profound deficit in (Stein & Walsh, 1997). According to this theory,
reading skills (Rutter & Yule, 1975). Current individuals with dyslexia have a specific low-level
estimates suggest that dyslexia affects between 3 deficit in the visual magno pathway. The magno
and 10% of school children (Snowling, 2000). pathway originates in the retina and projects to
Despite decades of research, the underlying basis the visual cortex via the magno layers of the
of this disorder remains unclear. Research into lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN).
the biological basis of dyslexia has focused on Studies conducted with nonhuman primates
deficits in visual and auditory processing. have shown that lesions to the magno layers of

Correspondence should be addressed to Lisa Gibson, Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, Centre for Child Health
Research, The University of Western Australia, PO Box 855, West Perth WA 6872 Australia. (Email: lisag@ichr.uwa.edu.au).
The authors would like to thank all the children and families for giving up their time to be involved in this study. We would also
like to thank those who helped with the recruiting process: Dyslexia-SPELD Foundation, The University of Western Australia
Child Study Centre Clinic, Wembley Primary School, Spearwood Alternative School, Shelley Farrow, Elize De Rooster, Anne
Nicholls, and Barbara Pocklington.

# 2006 Psychology Press Ltd 621


http://www.psypress.com/cogneuropsychology DOI:10.1080/02643290500412545
GIBSON, HOGBEN, FLETCHER

the LGN result in reduced contrast sensitivity to dyslexics are performing poorly. In a recent
stimuli with both low spatial frequency and high review of 10 studies, Ramus (2003) reports that
temporal frequency (e.g., Merigan & Maunsell, on average only 29% of dyslexics have visual
1990). The magno pathway is usually character- deficits.
ized as primarily a flicker or motion-detecting
system (see Livingstone & Hubel, 1988, for a
Auditory deficits in dyslexia
more detailed review).
Empirical evidence for a magno deficit is based It has also been suggested that dyslexics have low-
on psychophysical studies that have found that level auditory deficits. This hypothesis was orig-
dyslexics have decreased sensitivity to visual inally proposed by Tallal (1980), who found that
stimuli that assess the properties of the magno children with dyslexia were poor at discriminating
system (see Lovegrove, Martin, & Slaghuis, and sequencing auditory stimuli that are brief or
1986, for a review). For example, dyslexics show rapidly presented.
reduced contrast sensitivity at lower spatial fre- Since Tallal’s early work, a number of auditory
quencies (Martin & Lovegrove, 1984, 1988) as tasks have been used to demonstrate impaired
well as reduced sensitivity to flicker, especially at performance among dyslexics. Differences between
high temporal frequencies (Martin & Lovegrove, dyslexics and control readers have been found on
1987, 1988). In addition, decreases in sensitivity auditory frequency discrimination tasks (Ahissar,
to motion have been found using coherent dot Protopapas, Reid, & Merzenich, 2000; De
motion tasks (Cornelissen, Richardson, Mason, Weirdt, 1988; France et al., 2002; Hari, Valta, &
Fowler, & Stein, 1995; Slaghuis & Ryan, 1999; Uutela, 1999; McAnally & Stein, 1996) and fre-
Talcott et al., 1998). quency modulation detection tasks (Witton,
The psychophysical evidence for a magno Stein, Stoodley, Rosner, & Talcott, 2002;
deficit in dyslexia is corroborated by anatomical Witton et al., 1998). Also, children with dyslexia
and physiological evidence. Livingstone, Rosen, have been found to have elevated thresholds for
Drislane, and Galaburda (1991) found abnormal- backward detection masking (Rosen &
ities, including reduced cell size, in the magno Manganari, 2001; Wright et al., 1997). Further
layers of the LGN but not the parvo layers of dys- evidence of an auditory deficit in dyslexia is pro-
lexics’ brains. Brain imaging studies have shown vided by studies that have shown that, in compari-
that dyslexics have lower levels of activation to son to controls, dyslexics have abnormal
coherent motion in area MT than have control neurophysiological responses to a variety of audi-
subjects (Eden et al., 1996). tory stimuli (McAnally & Stein, 1996; Ruff,
Despite this seemingly strong evidence for a Cardebat, Marie, & Demonet, 2002; Temple
magno deficit in dyslexics, this theory has received et al., 2000).
growing criticism. Some studies have failed to Aside from the empirical support outlined
replicate findings of a visual magno deficit above, there have been a number of contradictory
among dyslexics (e.g., Johannes, Kussmaul, findings. There are studies that have failed to
Munte, & Mangun, 1996; Smith, Early, & replicate auditory deficits in dyslexia (Heath,
Grogan, 1986; Spinelli et al., 1997; Victor, Hogben, & Clark, 1999; Hill, Bailey, Griffiths,
Conte, Burton, & Nass, 1993; Walther-Müller, & Snowling, 1999; McArthur & Hogben, 2001).
1995). Also, other studies have found deficits Heath et al. (1999) and McArthur and Hogben
outside the range predicted by the magno deficit (2001) found auditory deficits only in a comorbid
hypothesis (Amitay, Ben-Yehudah, Banai, & reading- and language-impaired group. This
Ahissar, 2002; Skottun, 2000). Additionally, prompted the suggestion that auditory deficits
while studies report group differences between may only be found among those dyslexics with
dyslexics and controls, those studies that include poor oral language skills. Other studies have
individual data reveal that only a minority of failed to find support for the notion of a “rapid”

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SENSORY PROCESSING IN DEVELOPMENTAL DYSLEXIA

auditory processing deficit, with dyslexics per- difficulties with orthographic skills (use of word-
forming poorly on the auditory temporal order specific orthographic features to retrieve a whole
judgement tasks at long interstimulus intervals word from the mental lexicon). Hence, researchers
(Marshall, Snowling, & Bailey, 2001; Nittrouer, have examined how low-level visual and auditory
1999). In addition, not all dyslexics have auditory processing relates to phonological and ortho-
deficits. The group differences found seem to be graphic skills.
due to a subgroup of dyslexics who perform Tallal (1980) proposed that the phonological
poorly on the auditory tasks (Rosen & deficits found in most dyslexics were a conse-
Manganari, 2001; Tallal, 1980; Witton et al., quence of an impairment in temporal auditory
1998; Wright et al., 1997). The incidence of audi- processing. More recently, Witton and colleagues
tory deficits in dyslexia is estimated to be about (1998, 2002) found that auditory processing was
40% (Ramus, 2003). a significant predictor of phonological skills in
both dyslexics and controls. However, some
Relationship between visual and auditory processing studies have found that visual processing is
Although originally examined as separate deficits linked to nonword reading ability, which is a
in dyslexia, some researchers now argue that measure of phonological decoding skill (Cestnick
visual and auditory deficits are part of a more & Coltheart, 1999; Slaghuis, Lovegrove, &
general magno dysfunction (Stein & Walsh, Davidson, 1993; Talcott et al., 1998). There are
1997). This is in line with Stein (1993) who also suggestions that visual processing is associated
suggests a multimodal temporal processing with orthographic skills (Stein, 2003).
deficit as the basis of dyslexia. Early evidence Cornelissen, Hansen, Hutton, Evangelinou, and
that the deficits in the visual and auditory modal- Stein (1998) found that thresholds on a coherent
ities may be related was reported by Galaburda, motion detection task correlated with letter
Menard, and Rosen (1994) who found magno errors on a reading test. These errors are thought
abnormalities in the medial geniculate nucleus as to reflect orthographic skill.
well as in the lateral geniculate nucleus. These In order to make conclusions about which com-
magno cells are thought to be responsible for pro- ponent reading skill relates to which mode of low-
cessing temporal information in the visual and level sensory processing, it is necessary to measure
auditory domains. Behavioural evidence for a both visual and auditory processing and phonolo-
general magno deficit is provided by studies that gical and orthographic skills in the same individ-
have shown that visual and auditory deficits co- uals. Talcott et al. (2000) was the first study to
occur in some dyslexics (e.g., Cestnick, 2001; do this using a group of children unselected for
Witton et al., 1998). their reading ability. They found that visual
motion sensitivity explained independent variance
in orthographic skill, and that auditory sensitivity
Sensory deficits and reading skills
covaried with phonological but not orthographic
There have been attempts to link the low-level skill. However, a similar study by Gibson,
visual and auditory deficits found in dyslexics to Hogben, and Fletcher (2005) found a different
the presence of subtypes. Considering that dyslexia pattern of results. In contrast to Talcott et al.
is a heterogeneous condition, it is possible that a measures of visual processing were not specifically
particular type of reading difficulty is associated related to nonword or irregular-word reading.
specifically with a particular sensory deficit. The However, measures of auditory processing were
most recent and commonly referred to typology found to be associated with phonological decoding
of dyslexia is that of Castles and Coltheart skills. In a replication of Talcott et al. (2000), using
(1993). They distinguish between difficulties a larger sample of unselected school children,
with phonological skills (the use of grapheme– Talcott et al. (2002) found smaller and less specific
phoneme conversion rules to decode words) and relationships between visual and auditory

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GIBSON, HOGBEN, FLETCHER

processing and component reading skills. The of language ability on any relationship found
relationship between visual and auditory proces- between sensory measures and reading ability.
sing and component reading skills needs to be
further examined in a sample of dyslexic children.
Method
It is recognized widely that dyslexia is a hetero-
geneous condition. However, it is unclear Participants
whether the different types of dyslexia are associ- The dyslexic group consisted of 44 children (29
ated specifically with a particular sensory deficit. boys and 15 girls) aged between 8 years 1 month
This may also explain some of the inconsistencies and 12 years 4 months (mean age 9 years 10
in the research in relation to visual and auditory months). Criteria for inclusion in the dyslexic
deficits among dyslexics. group were as follows: reading accuracy (as
assessed by the NARA-III: Neale Analysis of
Reading Ability – Third Edition; Neale, 1999)
THE PRESENT STUDY more than 18 months behind chronological age,
a performance IQ greater than 85, English as the
The first aim of the present study was to examine first acquired language, normal or corrected-to-
the underlying basis of developmental dyslexia. normal vision, normal hearing, and no major
Previous research has suggested that dyslexics socio-emotional or medical problems. The
have deficits in low-level visual and auditory reading age of the dyslexic children ranged from
tasks. However, it remains unclear the extent to 18 to 65 months below their chronological age
which dyslexia is characterized by core deficits in (mean ¼ 34.95, SD ¼ 13.09). The children with
visual and auditory processing. While the majority dyslexia were recruited through screening at
of studies examine these issues at a group level, we metropolitan primary schools in Perth, Western
contend that it is important to look at individual Australia, an advertisement placed in The Parent
differences in relation to performance on the Paper, The University of Western Australia
visual and auditory tasks. We administered two Child Study Centre Clinic, private psychological
measures of visual processing (global dot motion clinics, and the Dyslexia-SPELD Foundation.
and flicker contrast sensitivity) and three measures The control group consisted of 44 children (30
of auditory processing (frequency discrimination, boys and 14 girls) with normal reading development,
frequency modulation detection, and backward aged between 8 years and 12 years 7 months (mean
masking). age 9 years 9 months). Selection was based on the
The second aim of the study was to determine criteria outlined above, with the exception of
which type of reading problem (phonological, reading accuracy, which had to be equal to or
orthographic) relates to which mode of sensory greater than a child’s chronological age. The
processing (visual, auditory). How visual and audi- reading age of children in the control group
tory processing relate to reading skills remains ranged from 0 to 19 months above chronological
unclear and has yet to be addressed adequately in age (mean ¼ 5.77, SD ¼ 4.38). The control children
a sample of dyslexic children and controls. We were recruited through metropolitan primary
administered a battery of reading tasks, including schools located in Perth, Western Australia.
nonword and irregular-word reading, as measures The dyslexic and control groups were equated
of children’s phonological and orthographic skills. for age and performance IQ (see Table 1).
While it is acknowledged that language and
reading impairments are highly comorbid, the Materials
language ability of the dyslexic group is not often Background questionnaire. The background ques-
considered, let alone measured, by researchers. In tionnaire was adapted from a previous question-
the present study, we have included a measure of naire used in the Perception Laboratory at The
language ability in order to examine the impact University of Western Australia. It was used to

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SENSORY PROCESSING IN DEVELOPMENTAL DYSLEXIA

Table 1. Characteristics of the age-matched groups on the selection criteria

Measure Group M (SD) Min–Max t

Chronological agea Dyslexic 118.9 (13.2) 97–148 20.56


Control 117.3 (12.8) 96–151
NARA-III accuracya Dyslexic 87.4 (11.3) 72–124 13.06
Control 123.3 (14.4) 102–157
NARA-III comprehensiona Dyslexic 94.6 (17.1) 72–151 9.85
Control 127.9 (14.5) 107–156
Verbal IQb Dyslexic 100.2 (11.0) 76–131 1.66
Control 104.5 (13.0) 86–141
Performance IQb Dyslexic 106.1 (11.3) 89–131 0.70
Control 108.2 (15.6) 85–152
Full-scale IQb Dyslexic 103.6 (9.6) 84–124 1.28
Control 107.6 (15.2) 84–151

Note: NARA-III ¼ Neale Analysis of Reading Ability–Third Edition; IQ ¼ Intelligence Quotient (from the Wechsler Abbreviated
Scale of Intelligence); SRD ¼ Specific Reading Disability; Con ¼ Control; Min ¼ minimum score; Max ¼ maximum score.
a
In months. bStandard score.

p ,.01.

obtain information from parents in the following In construction of the test, the regular words
areas: pregnancy, birth, and infancy; medical were included to enable comparison with the irre-
history (illnesses, operations, medical conditions, gular words (see Coltheart & Leahy, 1996, for the
medication, vision, audition, language); education word lists and details on test administration).
(language ability, reading ability, mathematical Accuracy scores were converted to standard z
ability, behaviour, psychological assessment); and scores using the normative data for Australian
family background. school children compiled by Edwards and
Hogben (1999).
Psychometric tests. Each item was presented singly on index cards
Neale Analysis of Reading Ability—Third in a mixed order. There was no feedback after
Edition (NARA-III; Neale, 1999). Reading each response, and no time limits were enforced.
ability was assessed using the accuracy subtest of Total number correct (out of 30) for regular-
the NARA-III. The NARA-III is an Australian word, irregular-word, and nonword reading was
standardized test, which contains norms for chil- calculated for each child.
dren aged between 6 years 0 months and 11
years 11 months. It consists of six graded reading Test of Word-Reading Efficiency (TOWRE;
passages for measuring rate, accuracy, and compre- Torgesen, Wagner, & Rashotte, 1999). The
hension of oral reading. TOWRE assesses an individual’s ability to accu-
rately and fluently pronounce printed words. The
Castles Word/Nonword Tests (Coltheart & TOWRE consists of two subtests—sight word
Leahy, 1996). This test contains 90 items, includ- efficiency and phonemic decoding efficiency—
ing 30 pronounceable nonwords (e.g., rint, each of which yields a standard score. The sight
bleaner), 30 irregular words (e.g., yacht, island), word efficiency subtest assesses the number of
and 30 regular words (e.g., market, brandy). The real words that can be accurately identified in 45
irregular-word list is designed to assess ortho- seconds. The phonemic decoding subtest assesses
graphic decoding skills, and the nonword list is the number of pronounceable nonwords that can
designed to assess phonological decoding skills. be accurately decoded in 45 seconds. Standard

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GIBSON, HOGBEN, FLETCHER

scores are given based on the child’s raw score rela- Auditory Phonological Task (Martin et al.,
tive to children of the same age. The standard 2000). The phoneme deletion task was used to
scores have a mean of 100 and a standard deviation measure a child’s ability to access and use a phono-
of 15. logical, or sound-based, strategy. Children were
asked to delete a sound from a known word,
Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing whereby the pronunciation is based on the remain-
(CTOPP; Wagner, Torgesen, & Rashotte, ing sounds when a specified sound is deleted (e.g.,
1999). The CTOPP assesses phonological skills snow with the sound/s/removed). There were four
in individuals aged between 7 and 24 years. It con- practice items, for which feedback was provided,
tains six core subtests and six supplementary subt- followed by 28 experimental items where no feed-
ests. The CTOPP is based on a model of back was given.
phonological processing that views phonological Participants responded orally, and responses
awareness, phonological memory, and rapid were recorded on paper. Responses were classified
naming as three separate, though related, abilities. as correct (accurate according to the instructions
Three core subtests were administered to all given), crossed (an orthographic response was
children in the sample: Elision (saying what is given when a phonological response was required),
left of a word after deleting a particular or incorrect (neither a phonological nor an ortho-
phoneme); Memory for Digits (repeating a series graphic response to the target word).
of numbers); and Nonword Repetition (repeating
made-up words). One supplementary subtest was Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals –
also administered: Phoneme Reversal (saying non- Third Edition (CELF-III; Semel, Wiig, &
words backwards to form real words). A standard Secord, 1995). The CELF-III is a battery of six
score is derived for each subtest—the subtest stan- subtests used for assessing language skills in
dard scores have a mean 10 and a standard devi- school age children. The subtests measure syntax,
ation of 3. semantics, and memory and are grouped according
to the basic distinction between expressive and
Visual Orthographic Task (Martin, Pratt, & receptive language abilities. This test yields an
Fraser, 2000). The grapheme deletion task was expressive language ability score, a receptive
used to measure a child’s ability to access and use language ability score, and a composite total
an orthographic, or letter-based, strategy. language score. Two expressive subtests were
Children were asked to delete a letter from a administered (Recalling Sentences and Sentence
known word, whereby the pronunciation is based Assembly) for which a prorated expressive
on the remaining spelling when a specified letter language ability score was calculated, and two
is deleted (e.g., snow with the letter “s” removed). receptive subtests were used (Word Classes and
Each word was presented in 24-point Times Semantic Relationships) for which a prorated
New Roman black font on white (5  10-cm) receptive language ability score was calculated.
cards. The experimenter did not speak the visually
presented words. There were four practice items, Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence
for which feedback was provided, followed by 28 (WASI; Wechsler, 1999). Intelligence was
experimental items where no feedback was given. measured using the WASI. The WASI consists
Participants responded orally, and responses of four subtests: vocabulary, block design, simi-
were recorded on paper. Responses were classified larities, and matrix reasoning. The vocabulary
as correct (accurate according to the instructions and similarities subtests comprise the Verbal
given), crossed (a phonological response was scale and are used to obtain the Verbal IQ. The
given when an orthographic response was block design and the matrix reasoning subtests
required), or incorrect (neither an orthographic comprise the Performance scale and are used to
nor a phonological response to the target word). obtain the Performance IQ. This test yields a

626 COGNITIVE NEUROPSYCHOLOGY, 2006, 23 (4)


SENSORY PROCESSING IN DEVELOPMENTAL DYSLEXIA

Performance, Verbal, and Full-scale IQ score, each Flicker Contrast Sensitivity (FCS). The flicker
with a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15. contrast sensitivity task was adapted from Evans,
Drasdo, and Richards (1994). The stimulus
Psychophysical tasks. All threshold estimates were target consisted of a 3.15-deg Gaussian patch pre-
obtained using an objective response mode (two- sented in the middle of the screen. The target had
alternative forced-choice), and a PEST procedure a temporal frequency of 10 Hz and a mean lumi-
(Taylor & Creelman, 1967) was used to calculate nance of 20 cd/m2. The target was surrounded
75% correct performance level. The threshold by a field of matched space-averaged luminance.
was calculated as the mean of all presentations fol- Each target was presented randomly, either
lowing the fourth reversal. For each psychophysi- before or after another stimulus, which had the
cal task participants received 10 practice trials same mean luminance but did not flicker. The
followed by two blocks of 60 experimental trials. temporal contrast (modulation depth) was varied
to obtain the threshold.
Visual psychophysical tasks. The stimuli for the two Each trial began with the presentation of a fix-
visual tasks were presented on a Sony Trinitron ation cross indicating where the centre of the
GDM-20SEI monitor controlled by a target would appear. Two 1,000-ms intervals
Cambridge Research Systems VSG2/3. The screen were presented, each signalled by a tone, and
was viewed binocularly in a darkened room. were separated by a screen with a fixation cross.
The target stimulus was randomly presented
Global Dot Motion (GDM). The global dot during one of the intervals. The children were
motion stimulus was similar to that of Edwards asked to indicate, using a button box, which inter-
and Badcock (1996). It consisted of 100 dots val (first or second) contained the target.
each subtending 0.11 degrees. The dots were dis- Thresholds reflected the percentage of contrast
tributed randomly across the screen. However, to needed to detect flicker. Thresholds for each
ensure that the dots would not overlap, proximity participant were transformed to contrast sensitivity
restrictions were imposed. There were 20 frames (1,000/threshold).
each displayed for 30 ms, which resulted in a
total duration of 600 ms for each trial. Auditory psychophysical tasks. Auditory testing was
To eliminate local cues to the direction of conducted in an acoustically shielded room. The
motion, the coherently moving dots were chosen stimuli were all digitally generated on a TDT
randomly on each frame instead of having the System II controlled by computer and presented
same dots moving coherently across all 20 through Sennheiser HD 265 headphones. All
frames. The remaining dots moved in a random sounds were presented binaurally. Participants
direction, excluding the coherent motion direc- registered their responses by pressing the appro-
tion. The coherence of the first presentation was priate buttons on a key pad.
20%—that is, 20 dots were moving in the same
direction. The spatial step size was 0.19 degrees, Frequency Discrimination (FD). A task based on
resulting in a stimulus velocity of 6.33 deg/s. the AXB design described by Mengler, Hogben,
After each stimulus presentation, participants Michie, and Bishop (2005) was used to measure
were asked to indicate the direction of movement difference thresholds. Three 100-ms, 83-dB SPL
(up or down) by pressing a corresponding button tones separated by 300 ms were presented. The
on a response box. Feedback was given after each first tone (A) was a 1,000-Hz standard, the third
trial. Thresholds were defined as the proportion tone (B) was the same frequency plus the current
of dots needed to correctly report the direction frequency difference, and the middle tone (X)
of movement on 75% of the trials. A higher matched either the first or the third tone on a
threshold on this task indicates low sensitivity random basis. The initial stimulus difference was
(poorer performance). 30 Hz with a maximum step size of 8 Hz and a

COGNITIVE NEUROPSYCHOLOGY, 2006, 23 (4) 627


GIBSON, HOGBEN, FLETCHER

minimum step size of 0.1 Hz. The participant’s During these two sessions the NARA-III,
task was to indicate whether the middle tone was TOWRE, CELF-III, the auditory phonological
the same as the first or last sound. task, and the visual orthographic task were
administered.
Frequency Modulation (FM) Detection. FM detec-
tion thresholds were measured in an adaptive
version of the task described by Witton et al. Results
(1998). In our measure only the modulation Preliminary analyses
depth was varied, while the rate of modulation Following screening of the data, several data
was held constant. Participants were presented points for the psychophysical tasks were removed
with pairs of 500-ms 72-dB SPL tones separated from analysis. These consisted of erratic and
by a 500-ms interval. One sound was a pure unstable PEST functions as well as statistically
1,000-Hz tone; the other target tone was fre- significant outliers.
quency modulated at a rate of 2 Hz. The order
of the two tones was randomly varied from trial
Performance on psychometric measures
to trial. Initial depth of modulation in the target
Summary statistics for the psychometric tests are
tone was 10 Hz, with a maximum step size of 4
presented in Table 2.
Hz and a minimum step size of 0.1 Hz. The par-
ticipant’s task was to indicate whether the modu-
lated tone came first or second. Group differences. Independent samples t tests
revealed significant differences between the chil-
Backward Masking (BM). This task was modelled dren with dyslexia and controls on all psycho-
on Wright et al. (1997). In each trial participants metric measures (see Table 2). Compared with
heard two 300-ms bursts of bandpass noise normal readers, children with dyslexia obtained
centred at 1,000 Hz with a bandwidth of 800 Hz lower scores on all reading, language, orthographic,
(intermasker interval ¼ 800 ms). One of these and phonological measures (largest t ¼ 11.40, all
noises was preceded by a 20-ms target tone with ps , .05). The largest differences were found on
a frequency of 1,000 Hz. The target tone was ran- two tasks measuring phonological skills:
domly presented before the first or the second TOWRE phonemic decoding efficiency and
burst. There was no silent interval between the Castles nonword reading.
tone and the masker. The initial tone intensity
was 70 dB SPL, with a maximum step size of 5 Within-group correlational analyses. All correla-
dB and a minimum step size of 1 dB. The partici- tional analyses were performed within each
pant was required to indicate whether the target group separately. Table 3 presents the correlations
tone occurred before the first or second noise. for the control group, and Table 4 presents the
correlations for the dyslexic group. As has been
General procedure found in other studies among dyslexic and
Each child was assessed individually across three normal readers, we found a strong relationship
sessions by the first author. The first session between nonword and irregular-word reading for
lasted approximately 120 minutes and was con- both the dyslexic group (r ¼ .67) and the control
ducted at the University of Western Australia. group (r ¼ .53).
During this session the child completed the For the dyslexic group, there were strong
WASI, CTOPP, Castles Word/Nonword Tests, relationships between language ability, in particu-
and the visual and auditory psychophysical tasks. lar expressive language, and reading measures. All
The following two sessions, which each lasted correlations were positive, indicating that poor
approximately 40 minutes, were conducted in a language ability is associated with poor reading
quiet room within the child’s school or home. skills. Such strong relationships between language

628 COGNITIVE NEUROPSYCHOLOGY, 2006, 23 (4)


SENSORY PROCESSING IN DEVELOPMENTAL DYSLEXIA

Table 2. Psychometric tasks: Summary statistics

Measure Group M (SD) Min –Max t

TOWRE sight worda Dyslexic 83.8 (12.7) 55 –110 8.74


Control 106.2 (11.3) 89 –128
TOWRE phonemic decodinga Dyslexic 81.7 (10.6) 61 –106 10.73
Control 105.1 (9.8) 90 –137
TOWRE total word readinga Dyslexic 80.1 (12.2) 59 –110 10.19
Control 106.6 (12.1) 87 –139
CTOPP elisiona Dyslexic 7.5 (2.8) 2 –16 6.08
Control 10.7 (2.0) 7 –15
CTOPP digit spana Dyslexic 9.1 (3.2) 3 –15 2.56
Control 10.5 (1.9) 7 –14
CTOPP nonword repetitiona Dyslexic 7.5 (2.3) 4 –13 2.66
Control 8.7 (1.9) 5 –13
CTOPP phoneme reversala Dyslexic 7.1 (2.3) 4 –12 4.66
Control 9.1 (1.7) 5 –13
Castles nonwords correctb Dyslexic 10.7 (7.0) 0 –25 11.40
Control 24.4 (3.6) 17 –30
Castles irregular words correctb Dyslexic 13.2 (6.4) 0 –24 8.15
Control 22.1 (3.2) 15 –30
Castles regular wordsb Dyslexic 17.7 (7.6) 0 –30 7.96
Control 27.6 (2.8) 20 –30
CELF-III receptive languagea Dyslexic 93.3 (17.3) 53 –131 3.62
Control 105.5 (12.6) 84 –135
CELF-III expressive languagea Dyslexic 87.9 (17.8) 50 –125 3.97
Control 100.6 (9.8) 82 –118
Auditory phonological taskc Dyslexic 12.5 (7.0) 0 –24 6.85
Control 20.8 (2.8) 16 –26
Visual orthographic taskc Dyslexic 14.6 (5.6) 1 –25 6.49
Control 21.3 (3.4) 15 –28
a
Standard score. bOut of 30. cRaw score, out of 28.

p , .05;  p , .01.

ability and the reading measures were not found in variance in the data. The factor loadings for both
the control group. the control and dyslexic data are given in Table 5.
For both the dyslexic and control groups, all four
tasks loaded on one factor, suggesting that these
Factor analysis. A principal components analysis
tasks do not represent distinct phonological and
with varimax orthogonal rotation was conducted
orthographic skills. Hence, a composite measure
to examine the relationships between purported
of orthographic ability and a composite measure
measures of phonological and orthographic skills
of phonological ability could not be created.
used in the present study. Castles nonword and
irregular-word reading z scores, the auditory pho-
nological task, and the visual orthographic task Language ability. The study confirmed the high
were entered into the analysis. For the control comorbidity of reading and language impairments.
group, the analysis revealed one factor with an Of the children with dyslexia, 18 performed worse
eigenvalue greater than 1, which explained 57.4% than 1 standard deviation below the mean of the
of the variance in the data. For the dyslexic group, control group on the receptive language subtest
the analysis revealed one factor with an eigenvalue of the CELF-III, while 20 performed worse
larger than 1, which explained 72.5% of the than 1 standard deviation below the mean of the

COGNITIVE NEUROPSYCHOLOGY, 2006, 23 (4) 629


630
Table 3. Pearson product–moment correlation matrix for the control group

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

2 .61 —
GIBSON, HOGBEN, FLETCHER

3 .02 .18 —
4 .19 .34 .79 —
5 .12 .28 .94 .94 —
6 .28 .51 .33 .34 .37 —
7 2.01 2.12 .22 .07 .16 .24 —
8 .14 .20 2.01 2.06 2.02 .28 .29 —
9 .21 .37 .36 .36 .39 .54 .05 2.02 —
10 .34 .19 .26 .33 .31 .16 .19 2.16 .29 —
11 .22 .37 .38 .37 .40 .24 .20 2.21 .26 .53 —
12 .17 .32 .36 .34 .37 .34 .04 2.16 .31 .56 .66 —

COGNITIVE NEUROPSYCHOLOGY, 2006, 23 (4)


13 .39 .46 .26 .28 .30 .69 .24 .28 .48 .33 .32 .32 —
14 .60 .55 .27 .39 .36 .56 2.11 .13 .46 .39 .38 .44 .73 —
15 .01 .26 .19 .18 .19 .25 2.18 2.11 .53 2.03 .12 .11 .20 .17 —
16 2.27 .02 .18 .18 .18 .21 .04 .06 .12 2.25 .14 .02 .14 .10 .47 —
17 2.28 2.44 .18 2.07 .11 .32 .10 .23 2.18 2.02 2.06 2.02 2.08 2.32 2.20 2.19 —
18 .19 .27 2.02 .07 2.01 .08 .04 .06 .24 .09 .05 .09 2.01 .14 .01 2.02 2.32 —
19 2.15 2.46 2.18 2.24 2.19 2.50 2.07 .01 2.18 2.27 2.38 2.46 2.35 2.38 2.26 2.25 .55 2.02 —
20 2.23 2.17 .32 2.28 2.30 2.01 .19 .23 2.29 2.52 2.34 2.55 2.22 2.37 2.16 2.12 2.12 2.01 .29 —
21 2.19 2.19 2.35 2.21 2.25 2.17 2.15 2.02 2.38 2.29 2.32 2.33 2.26 2.26 2.24 2.14 .01 2.27 .32 .53

Note: 1 ¼ NARA-III accuracy (months); 2 ¼ NARA-III comprehension (months); 3 ¼ TOWRE sight word (standard score); 4 ¼ TOWRE phonemic decoding (standard
score); 5 ¼ TOWRE total word reading (standard score); 6 ¼ CTOPP elision (standard score); 7 ¼ CTOPP digit span (standard score); 8 ¼ CTOPP nonword repetition
(standard score); 9 ¼ CTOPP phoneme reversal (standard score); 10 ¼ Castles nonwords (z score); 11 ¼ Castles irregular words (z score); 12 ¼ Castles regular words
(z score); 13 ¼ Auditory phonological task (raw score, out of 26); 14 ¼ Visual orthographic task (raw score, out of 26); 15 ¼ CELF-III receptive (standard score); 16 ¼
CELF-III expressive (standard score); 17 ¼ Global dot motion (threshold); 18 ¼ Flicker contrast sensitivity; 19 ¼ Frequency discrimination (threshold); 20 ¼
Frequency modulation (threshold); 21 ¼ Backward masking (threshold).

p , .05;  p , .01.
Table 4. Pearson product moment correlation matrix for the dyslexic group

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

2 .94 —
3 .56 .46 —
4 .42 .34 .70 —
5 .53 .43 .92 .90 —
6 .31 .27 .46 .56 .56 —
7 .30 .32 .18 .31 .24 .21 —
8 .30 .37 .22 .47 .34 .38 .55 —
9 .37 .38 .42 .62 .54 .47 .27 .41 —
10 .54 .53 .49 .66 .63 .41 .34 .42 .65 —
11 .60 .55 .65 .56 .69 .32 .16 .26 .46 .67 —
12 .51 .43 .68 .69 .73 .48 .28 .29 .49 .73 .72 —
13 .62 .67 .41 .51 .51 .29 .34 .49 .68 .62 .60 .58 —
14 .63 .60 .39 .47 .46 .18 .21 .39 .52 .60 .57 .53 .74 —
15 .24 .20 .34 .57 .49 .52 .29 .50 .31 .29 .33 .27 .18 .18 —
16 .45 .49 .41 .48 .46 .45 .54 .61 .47 .49 .31 .29 .36 .36 .66 —
17 2.05 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.02 2.19 .05 2.07 2.15 2.12 2.16 2.12 2.07 2.15 2.19 .07 —
18 .30 .34 2.05 .05 .04 2.10 .14 .32 2.04 .21 .23 .09 .38 .36 2.03 .05 2.18 —
19 2.18 2.11 2.02 2.16 2.12 2.11 2.43 2.29 2.31 2.17 2.14 2.13 2.31 2.20 .10 2.05 2.01 2.17 —
20 2.28 2.21 .26 2.46 2.28 2.34 2.29 .34 2.51 2.26 2.09 .31 2.45 2.40 2.11 2.19 .10 2.08 .39 —
21 2.09 2.01 .05 2.16 2.10 2.15 2.14 2.25 2.21 2.14 .03 2.17 2.12 2.18 2.31 2.22 .32 2.05 .10 .40

Note: 1 ¼ NARA-III accuracy (months); 2 ¼ NARA-III comprehension (months); 3 ¼ TOWRE sight word (standard score); 4 ¼ TOWRE phonemic decoding (standard
score); 5 ¼ TOWRE total word reading (standard score); 6 ¼ CTOPP elision (standard score); 7 ¼ CTOPP digit span (standard score); 8 ¼ CTOPP nonword repetition
(standard score); 9 ¼ CTOPP phoneme reversal (standard score); 10 ¼ Castles nonwords (z score); 11 ¼ Castles irregular words (z score); 12 ¼ Castles regular words
(z score); 13 ¼ Auditory phonological task (raw score, out of 26); 14 ¼ Visual orthographic task (raw score, out of 26); 15 ¼ CELF-III receptive (standard score); 16 ¼
CELF-III expressive (standard score); 17 ¼ Global dot motion (threshold); 18 ¼ Flicker contrast sensitivity; 19 ¼ Frequency discrimination (threshold); 20 ¼
Frequency modulation (threshold); 21 ¼ Backward masking (threshold).

p , .05;  p , .01.

COGNITIVE NEUROPSYCHOLOGY, 2006, 23 (4)


SENSORY PROCESSING IN DEVELOPMENTAL DYSLEXIA

631
GIBSON, HOGBEN, FLETCHER

Table 5. Factor loading from the principal components analysis GDM and FCS tasks. Test – retest reliability
(varimax rotation) on nonword reading, irregular-word reading, with Spearman – Brown correction yielded moder-
the auditory phonological task, and the visual orthographic task for
the control groupa and the dyslexic groupb
ate to high coefficients for GDM (controls, r ¼ .81;
dyslexics, r ¼ .71) and FCS (controls, r ¼ .76;
Group Factor 1 dyslexics, r ¼ .73).
c
Castles nonword reading Dyslexic .85
Control .69 Group differences. Independent samples t tests
Castles irregular-word readingc Dyslexic .83
Control .73
revealed that children with dyslexia performed
Auditory phonological task Dyslexic .87 significantly worse than control children on both
Control .78 GDM and FCS (see Table 6).
Visual orthographic task Dyslexic .86
Control .83
Within-group correlations. Performance on the
a
N ¼ 42. bN ¼ 38. cz scores. GDM task and the FCS task was significantly
correlated in the control group (r ¼ 2.32, p ,
.05), but not in the dyslexic group (r ¼ 2.18,
control group on the expressive language subtest of
p . .05). Only 3 children with dyslexia had poor
the CELF-III. Using a composite measure of total
performances on both GDM and FCS (poor per-
language ability, approximately 56% of the dyslexic
formance was defined as 1 standard deviation
sample also had a language impairment (i.e.,
below the mean of the control group).
comorbid group).
Classification of dyslexics. Using the criteria1 speci-
Relationships with reading skills. The relationships
fied by Edwards and Hogben (1999), those in
between the measures of visual processing and
the dyslexic sample were classified according
reading ability, as assessed by the Castles Word/
to their deficient reading procedure. Some 29.5%
Nonword Lists, were also examined. For both
of the dyslexics could be classified using this cri-
the control group and the dyslexic group, perform-
terion. A total of 7 children demonstrated less pro-
ance on the visual processing tasks (GDM and
ficiency in orthographic skills than in phonological
FCS) is not significantly correlated with
skills (surface dyslexic), and 6 children showed the
nonword or irregular-word reading.
opposite pattern (phonological dyslexic), while 18
performed poorly on both measures and could be
classified as the “mixed deficit” type (deficient at Subtypes. We also examined the performance of the
both nonword and irregular-word reading). The children classified as surface and phonological dys-
remaining 13 dyslexic children could not be classi- lexics on the visual processing tasks. While there
fied according to the Edwards and Hogben criteria was a trend for the surface dyslexic group to have
(i.e., these children did not perform more than 1.5 higher thresholds (M ¼ 28.01) than the phonolo-
standard deviations below the mean for their age gical dyslexic group (M ¼ 18.89) on GDM, this
group on either of the word lists). difference was not significant, t(11) ¼ 1.29, p ¼
.22. On the FCS task, the trend was for the
Performance on visual tasks surface dyslexic group to perform poorly (M ¼
Summary statistics for the visual psychophysical 84.79) relative to the phonological dyslexic group
tasks are presented in Table 6. Reliability coeffi- (M ¼ 97.76). However, this difference was not sig-
cients were calculated for performance on the nificant, t(11) ¼ 0.49, p ¼ .63.

1
These are based on a difference between z scores on the irregular-word and nonword reading list equalling or exceeding 0.5
standard deviations when performing below average on at least one of the lists (z  21.64). A negative difference indicates poor
irregular-word reading (i.e., surface dyslexic), while a positive difference indicates poor nonword reading (i.e., phonological dyslexic).

632 COGNITIVE NEUROPSYCHOLOGY, 2006, 23 (4)


SENSORY PROCESSING IN DEVELOPMENTAL DYSLEXIA

Table 6. Summary statistics for the psychophysical tasks

Measure Group M (SD) Min– Max t

GDM threshold Dyslexic 22.1 (14.4) 5.2– 63.9 2.67


Control 15.5 (7.0) 4.8– 36.5
FCS Dyslexic 98.5 (45.3) 30.4– 224.2 2.97
Control 132.5 (58.1) 66.7– 333.3
FD threshold Dyslexic 27.1 (12.9) 1.0– 53.6 3.45
Control 18.6 (8.8) 3.6– 41.6
FM detection threshold Dyslexic 13.3 (8.4) 2.5– 33.9 3.66
Control 7.9 (4.3) 1.4– 22.8
BM threshold Dyslexic 53.0 (17.4) 26.6– 87.9 5.24
Control 38.5 (3.4) 32.7– 51.0

p , .01.

Language ability. The relationship between correlated. Only 5 children with dyslexia had poor
language ability (as assessed by the CELF-III) performance on all three auditory tasks.
and visual processing was examined using
Pearson product moment correlations. In both
the dyslexic and the control groups, receptive and Factor analysis. To further examine the relation-
expressive language were not related to perform- ships between the auditory tasks, a principal com-
ance on GDM and FCS. ponents analysis with varimax orthogonal rotation
was conducted for each group on FD, FM
Performance on auditory tasks Detection, and BM. For the control group, the
Table 6 presents the summary statistics for the analysis revealed one factor with an eigenvalue
auditory psychophysical tasks. Test – retest larger than 1.00, which explained 61.3% of
reliability with Spearman –Brown correction the variance in the data. For the dyslexic group,
revealed moderate to high coefficients for FD the analysis revealed one factor with an eigenvalue
(controls, r ¼ .77; dyslexics, r ¼ .73), FM detec- larger than 1.00, which explained 55.2% of the
tion (controls, r ¼ .75; dyslexics, r ¼ .82), and variance in the data. The rotated factor loadings
BM (controls, r ¼ .78; dyslexics, r ¼ .92). for both the dyslexic and control groups are
given in Table 7. While the correlational analysis
Group differences. Independent samples t tests does not show a clear pattern of relationships
revealed that children with dyslexia performed sig- between the auditory tasks, the PCA reveals that
nificantly worse than control children on each of
the three auditory processing tasks (largest t ¼
5.24, all ps , .01). Table 7. Factor loading from the principal components analysis
(varimax rotation) on the auditory psychophysical tasks for the
control groupa and the dyslexic groupb
Within-group correlational analyses. The relation-
ships between the three auditory tasks were exam- Group Factor 1
ined using Pearson product moment correlations FD Dyslexic .68
(Tables 3 and 4). In the dyslexic group, FM detec- Control .65
tion was significantly correlated with both FD and FM detection Dyslexic .86
BM, while BM was not significantly correlated Control .84
BM Dyslexic .67
with FD. In the control group, BM was signifi-
Control .84
cantly correlated with both FD and FM detection,
a
while FD and FM detection were not significantly N ¼ 37. bN ¼ 34.

COGNITIVE NEUROPSYCHOLOGY, 2006, 23 (4) 633


GIBSON, HOGBEN, FLETCHER

the measures of auditory processing do in fact significant, t(9) ¼ 1.19, p ¼ .26. On BM, the pho-
represent one ability (i.e., auditory processing). nological dyslexic group also had a higher mean
threshold (M ¼ 52.18) than the surface dyslexic
Relationships with reading skills. The relationships (M ¼ 45.02), but this difference was not signifi-
between the measures of auditory processing and cant, t(11) ¼ 0.97, p ¼ .35.
reading ability, as assessed by the Castles Word/
Nonword Lists, were also examined. In the Language ability. The CELF-III was used as a
control group, all three measures of auditory pro- measure of oral language to examine the sugges-
cessing were significantly correlated with irregu- tion that auditory deficits may be found only in
lar-word reading (FM, r ¼ 2.34; FD, r ¼ 2.38; those dyslexics who also have a language deficit.
BM, r ¼ 2.32; all ps , .05). Due to the strong Receptive and expressive language was not signifi-
relationship between nonword and irregular- cantly related to performance on the auditory tasks
word reading, semipartial correlations were con- in either the dyslexics or the controls.
ducted to look specifically at the relationship
between the auditory tasks and irregular-word Relationships between visual and auditory tasks
reading. Using this procedure, the correlations The relationships between measures of visual and
between the three auditory tasks and irregular- auditory processing were also examined (see
word reading were not significant. On the other Tables 3 and 4). For the control group, the only
hand, FM detection was significantly correlated significant correlation was between GDM and
with nonword reading (r ¼ 2.52, p ¼ .01). FD (r ¼ .55, p , .01), indicating that higher
When a semipartial correlation was calculated, thresholds on GDM are associated with higher
the correlation between FM detection and FD thresholds. For the dyslexic group, there
nonword reading remained significant (r ¼ 2.32, were no significant correlations between the
p ¼ .017, two-tailed). FM detection accounted visual and auditory tasks, indicating that the
for approximately 10% of additional variance in visual and auditory tasks share little or no
nonword reading after controlling for irregular- common variance.
word reading and age. To clarify the relationships between these
In the dyslexic group, there were no significant variables, a principal components analysis with
correlations between the auditory tasks (FD, FM varimax orthogonal rotation was conducted for
detection, BM) and irregular-word reading. each group on the two visual processing tasks
However, semipartial correlations revealed a sig- (GDM, FCS) and the three auditory processing
nificant (although weak) correlation between FD tasks (FD, FM Detection, BM). For the control
and nonword reading (r ¼ 2.26, p ¼ .04, two- group, the analysis revealed two factors with an
tailed). FD accounted for a significant 6% of eigenvalue larger than 1.00, which explained
additional variance in nonword reading after 67.7% of the variance in the data. The rotated
controlling for irregular-word reading and age. factor loadings are given in Table 8. FD, FM
Detection, and BM loaded on Factor 1, which cor-
Subtypes. We also examined the performance of responds to auditory processing ability. GDM and
the children classified as surface and phonological FCS loaded on Factor 2, which represents visual
dyslexics on the auditory processing tasks. For FD, processing ability.
the phonological dyslexic group had a higher mean A different pattern of results was found for the
threshold (M ¼ 32.48) than the surface dyslexic dyslexic group. The analysis revealed three factors
(M ¼ 23.82), but this difference was not signifi- with an eigenvalue larger than 1.00, which
cant, t(11) ¼ 1.23, p ¼ .25. On FM Detection, explained 80.2% of the variance in the data. The
the phonological dyslexic group had a higher rotated factor loadings are given in Table 9.
mean threshold (M ¼ 15.99) than the surface dys- GDM and BM loaded on Factor 1, FD and FM
lexic (M ¼ 10.75), but this difference was not Detection loaded on Factor 2, and FCS loaded

634 COGNITIVE NEUROPSYCHOLOGY, 2006, 23 (4)


SENSORY PROCESSING IN DEVELOPMENTAL DYSLEXIA

Table 8. Factor loading from the principal components analysis Examining performance on the auditory tasks,
(varimax rotation) on GDM, FCS, FD, FM detection, and BM the percentage of children with dyslexia who fell
for the control groupa
at least 1 standard deviation above the mean of
Factor 1 Factor 2 the control group was 43.2% (19/44) for both
FD and FM detection and 56.8% (25/44) for BM.
GDM –.03 .89
FCS –.08 –.68
FD .67 .39
FM Detection .89 –.14 Discussion
BM .83 .13
The aims of this study were: (a) to investigate the
a
N ¼ 36. underlying basis of dyslexia by examining the

Factor loadings . .4. existence of a visual and/or auditory deficit in chil-
dren with dyslexia; and (b) to examine how visual
on Factor 3. The factor structure produced by the and auditory processing relate to two component
PCA was unclear; therefore, a second PCA was reading skills—orthographic and phonological
conducted specifying a two-factor solution. decoding.
However, the factor structure produced by a
two-factor solution was also unclear and difficult Psychophysical tasks
to interpret. Group comparisons.
Visual. As a group children with dyslexia per-
Universality formed poorly on both visual processing tasks.
To assess the universality of visual and auditory These findings are consistent with other studies
deficits in dyslexia, we examined the percentage that have also demonstrated poor performance
of children with dyslexia whose scores fell more on GDM (e.g., Slaghuis & Ryan, 1999; Talcott
than 1 standard deviation from the mean of the et al., 1998) and FCS (e.g., Martin &
control group on each of the measures. If visual Lovegrove, 1987, 1988) among individuals with
and auditory deficits do cause dyslexia, it should dyslexia. However, a closer examination of the
be a universal finding, or near universal, in the results reveals that only 31.8% of children with
sample of children with dyslexia. dyslexia scored at least 1 standard deviation
For the visual processing tasks, we found that above the mean of the control group on GDM
31.8% (14/44) of the dyslexic children performed and 43.2% on FCS (remembering that 16% of
worse than 1 standard deviation above the control the control group falls below this level). These
mean on the GDM task, whilst deficits on the percentages support the report by Ramus (2003)
FCS task were present in 43.2% (19/44) of the that on average 29% dyslexia participants exhibit
children with dyslexia. deficits on measures of visual processing. These
results indicate that difficulties with visual proces-
Table 9. Factor loading from the principal components analysis sing do exist in a proportion of children with dys-
(varimax rotation) on GDM, FCS, FD, FM detection, and BM
lexia, but that not all individuals with dyslexia
for the dyslexic groupa
exhibit visual processing problems.
Factor 1 Factor 2 Factor 3

GDM .85a
2.07 2.29 Auditory. As a group children with dyslexia per-
FCS 2.08 2.04 .95 formed worse than control children on all auditory
FD 2.16 .81 2.27 tasks. This finding is consistent with previous
FM Detection .45 .79 .21 studies (e.g., De Weirdt, 1988; Witton et al.,
BM .87 .13 .15
1998), which have found auditory deficits among
a
N ¼ 30. both children and adults with dyslexia. In line

Factor loadings . .4. with estimates from previous studies, auditory

COGNITIVE NEUROPSYCHOLOGY, 2006, 23 (4) 635


GIBSON, HOGBEN, FLETCHER

deficits were present in approximately half of the the banner “temporal processing”, which assumes
children with dyslexia, suggesting that decreased that there is a common temporal feature to the
sensitivity to auditory stimuli is not universal in tasks. However, the present study indicates that
dyslexia. These results are consistent with other performance on the visual and auditory tasks was
studies that report that the group differences on not driven by a unitary temporal processing
auditory tasks are due to a subgroup of dyslexics ability/deficit. This is contrary to claims of some
who perform poorly (Rosen & Manganari, 2001; researchers who view visual and auditory deficits
Tallal, 1980; Witton et al., 1998; Wright et al., as part of a more general temporal deficit in dys-
1997). lexia (i.e., multimodal temporal deficit; Stein,
1993). While there are claims that there is a
Relationship between visual and auditory tasks. We general magno deficit in dyslexia, few studies
also examined the extent to which visual and audi- have examined the relationship between visual
tory processing tasks are related. In the dyslexic and auditory processing in dyslexic children
group, the measures of visual and auditory proces- using more than one measure of each domain.
sing shared little variance. In the control group,
the only significantly correlation was between Visual and auditory tasks and reading skills
GDM and FD. These results conflict with other The results from the current investigation revealed
studies that report significant correlations that auditory processing (FD and FM detection)
between visual and auditory tasks. For example, was specifically related to phonological decoding
Witton et al. (1998) found that FM and a coherent in both dyslexics and controls. This finding is
dot motion task were strongly correlated (r ¼ .54) consistent with research from dyslexia (Talcott
across the dyslexic and control groups, while et al., 1998; Witton et al., 2002) and typical devel-
others such as Talcott et al. (2000) report a mod- opment (Gibson et al., 2005; Talcott et al., 2000),
erate correlation between FM detection and a which have provided evidence for a link between
coherent motion task (r ¼ .39) in children unse- auditory processing and phonological skills.
lected for reading. It is unlikely that our choice This association between auditory processing
of visual and auditory tasks is behind the lack of and phonological skills across the whole range of
interrelations, particularly given the group differ- reading abilities suggests that auditory processing
ences on each of the tasks. may play a role in the development of phonological
The results of the factor analysis revealed an skills. Considering that the auditory system is a
interesting pattern of results. For the control major source of input to the phonological
group, the visual and auditory tasks loaded on system, it is possible that impaired auditory sensi-
two factors representing visual and auditory pro- tivity constrains accurate speech perception and, as
cessing. However, for the dyslexic group, we a result, interferes with the development of phono-
were unable to obtain a clear factor structure in logical representations that may impede reading
either a three- or a two-factor solution. While acquisition (Bailey & Snowling, 2002).
there was a tidy pattern of results in the control While the present study provides evidence of a
group, there was no pattern to the performance link between auditory processing and phonological
of the dyslexic group on the visual and auditory skills, it is important to note that it is correlational
psychophysical tasks. The performance of the dys- and does not prove a causal relationship between
lexic group was less cohesive than the control these variables. Tallal maintains that the phonolo-
group and did not seem to be driven by an under- gical deficits in dyslexia are a consequence of an
lying construct. A possible explanation for the lack impairment in auditory processing (Tallal,
of relationships between the visual and auditory Miller, Jenkins, & Merzenich, 1997). However,
tasks is discussed below. it is unlikely that the poor phonological skills of
The visual and auditory tasks used in the our dyslexic sample are caused by an impairment
present study are discussed in the literature under in auditory processing. The association that we

636 COGNITIVE NEUROPSYCHOLOGY, 2006, 23 (4)


SENSORY PROCESSING IN DEVELOPMENTAL DYSLEXIA

found between performance on the auditory tasks between sensory processing and reading skills.
and nonword reading was quite weak. For the First, measures of component reading skills are
dyslexic group, the auditory tasks accounted for highly correlated in dyslexics, controls, and unse-
approximately 6% of the variance in nonword lected readers. There are several ways in which
reading ability. Furthermore, not all the dyslexics researchers have attempted to account for this
with poor phonological skills displayed deficits relationship. Talcott et al. (2000), in examining
on the auditory tasks. Studies that have examined the relationship between sensory measures and
the nature of the relationship between auditory component reading skills, performed partial corre-
processing and phonological skills show that audi- lations to remove the effects of overall reading
tory skills do not predict phonological skills ability (as measured by the British Abilities
(Marshall et al., 2001; Mody, Studdert-Kennedy, Scale). It is arguable that this resulted in the
& Brady, 1997). removal of the components of the orthographic
In terms of visual processing, we found that in and phonological tasks that are related to
both dyslexics and control readers FCS and GDM reading, which makes it difficult to interpret the
were not related to component reading skills. This relationships found. An alternative approach,
supports the findings of Gibson et al. (2005) who used in the present study, is to conduct semipartial
found that visual processing was not specifically correlations to account for the common variance
related to phonological or orthographic skills in a between orthographic and phonological measures.
sample of children unselected for their reading Hence, the way in which the analysis is conducted
ability. There has been much debate as to may be a possible reason for the contradictory
whether visual magno functioning is related to findings in the research.
reading skills, which has been fuelled by a Secondly, measures of orthographic skills tend
number of inconsistent findings. There are to vary across studies. There are a variety of tasks
studies that have found that visual processing is used to measure word-specific orthographic skills
related to phonological skills (Cestnick & including orthographic choice, homophone
Coltheart, 1999; Slaghuis et al., 1993) and also choice, orthographic verification, homophone
studies that have found relationships between verification, nonlexical choice, irregular-word
visual processing and orthographic skills in unse- reading, and irregular-word spelling (Castles &
lected readers (Talcott et al., 2000) and dyslexics Coltheart, 1993; Olson, Forsberg, Wise, & Rack,
(Stein, 2003). 1994). Precisely what these tasks are measuring
Previous findings of an association between and whether they are measuring the same con-
visual processing and reading skills have led some struct are yet to be established. This makes it dif-
researchers to argue that visual deficits are causally ficult to draw comparisons across studies that have
related to reading (Stein & Walsh, 1997), or alter- used different measures of orthographic skills. For
natively that they are markers (i.e., associated with example, the present study and Gibson et al.
reading deficit, but not causally related; Frith & (2005) used irregular-word reading and found
Frith, 1996; Vellutino, Scanlon, & Tanzman, that visual processing was not specifically related
2003). However, the lack of consistency in to orthographic skills. Talcott et al. (2000) used
finding relationships between visual processing an orthographic choice task and found an associ-
and reading skills has led some researchers to ation between this measure and visual processing.
argue that visual processing deficits may be unre- While intended as a measure of orthographic
lated to reading (Hulme, 1988). The results of skills, the orthographic choice task also taps
the present study are consistent with the latter metalinguistic knowledge. A correct response
view that visual magno functioning is not directly requires an awareness that words that sound
related to reading skills. the same may be spelled differently and mean
It is worth noting that there are a number of different things. Also, on the orthographic
difficulties in examining the relationships choice task a measure of latency is taken, unlike

COGNITIVE NEUROPSYCHOLOGY, 2006, 23 (4) 637


GIBSON, HOGBEN, FLETCHER

irregular-word reading, which is an untimed test. psychophysical tasks, the distribution of scores is
The differences in the type of orthographic task more variable in the dyslexic group than in the
used may also contribute to the inconsistencies control group. On each of the psychophysical
across research studies. tasks only a proportion of dyslexics perform
poorly resulting in an extended tail of the distri-
bution. In turn, this contributes to the group
What do our findings mean for visual and
differences by inflating the mean threshold for
auditory deficit theories?
the dyslexic group.
At the group level, children with dyslexia do Furthermore, if poor performance was due to
poorly on visual and auditory tasks, compared underlying sensory deficiencies, we would expect
with typically developing peers of similar age, the same individuals to be performing poorly on
gender, and nonverbal ability. However, at the more than one task. When examining the data at
individual level there is considerable overlap an individual level, only one dyslexic performed
between the groups, with only a subset of dyslexics poorly on all the visual and auditory psychophysi-
displaying visual and auditory deficits. Attempts to cal tasks, while seven children with dyslexia per-
identify characteristics of those dyslexics perform- formed poorly on four out of the five of the
ing poorly on the sensory tasks have been unsuc- psychophysical tasks. In examining the tasks on
cessful. Differences in reading difficulties and which individuals have deficits, there does not
language skills are unable to explain the variability seem to be a particular combination or set of
in performance on the psychophysical tasks among tasks that people are poor at (i.e., no pattern to
the dyslexic group. the deficits). This is supported by the results of
In dyslexic research, group differences between the factor analysis conducted on the psychophysi-
dyslexics and controls on visual and auditory psy- cal tasks. While there is a tidy pattern of results in
chophysical tasks are frequently viewed as evidence the controls, performance on the psychophysical
for specific sensory impairments in dyslexia. tasks is less cohesive for the dyslexic group (see
Roach, Edwards, and Hogben (2004) offer an Tables 8 and 9). Hence, it is possible that what
alternative explanation. They suggest that the we are finding is evidence to support a more
common pattern of results might reflect general general nonsensory problem with task completion,
nonsensory difficulties in the dyslexic group rather than a specific perceptual deficiency in
rather an underlying impairment in perceptual dyslexia.
processing. They simulated the effect of errant There have been more recent studies that have
trials, defined as “a trial on which any nonpercep- reported evidence for nonspecific deficits in dys-
tual factor, such as momentary inattention, dis- lexics. The majority of these studies report find-
traction, or confusion prevents the observer from ings that are inconsistent with the predictions of
responding as accurately as predicted from his or the magno theory. Amitay et al. (2002) found
her psychometric function” (p. 819) on perform- that, while some dyslexics had deficits on visual
ance on psychophysical tasks. They found that and auditory magno tasks, these individuals were
this simulation produced threshold distributions also impaired on a broad range of perceptual
similar to the pattern of results frequently seen in tasks that did not assess the magno functioning.
dyslexic groups. The results of the simulation In a review of the literature, Skottun (2000)
suggest that general nonsensory difficulties may demonstrated that dyslexics have been found to
explain the poor performance of dyslexics groups perform poorly at all spatial frequencies, not just
on psychophysical tasks. low spatial frequencies where the magno system
There are several features of the present data is dominant. According to the auditory deficit
that support Roach et al.’s (2004) explanation. theory, dyslexics should perform poorly when
There is a big mismatch of variability between auditory stimuli are brief or rapidly presented.
the dyslexic and control groups. For all five However, some dyslexics perform in the normal

638 COGNITIVE NEUROPSYCHOLOGY, 2006, 23 (4)


SENSORY PROCESSING IN DEVELOPMENTAL DYSLEXIA

range when sound frequencies change rapidly and auditory impairments but not from a specific magno-
poorly on tasks with long interstimulus intervals cellular deficit. Brain, 125, 2272– 2285.
(Marshall et al., 2001; Nittrouer, 1999; Rosen & Bailey, P. J., & Snowling, M. J. (2002). Auditory proces-
Manganari, 2001). sing and the development of language and literacy.
British Medical Bulletin, 63, 135– 146.
In combination, it appears that the majority of
Castles, A., & Coltheart, M. (1993). Varieties of devel-
dyslexics do not have specific visual and auditory
opmental dyslexia. Cognition, 47, 149– 180.
deficits. A general nonsensory problem with task Cestnick, L. (2001). Cross modality temporal proces-
completion seems a plausible explanation for the sing deficits in developmental phonological dyslexics.
pattern of the data found in the present study. Brain & Cognition, 46, 319– 325.
This highlights the importance of examining the Cestnick, L., & Coltheart, M. (1999). The relationship
patterns of performance within a group of dys- between language processing and visual processing
lexics. Simply to focus on a group comparison deficits in developmental dyslexia. Cognition, 71,
design must lead to misleading results. 231– 255.
Coltheart, M., & Leahy, J. (1996). Assessment of lexical
and nonlexical reading abilities in children: Some
normative data. Australian Journal of Psychology, 48,
CONCLUSION
136– 140.
Cornelissen, P. L., Hansen, P. C., Hutton, J. L.,
The results of the present study suggest that dys- Evangelinou, V., & Stein, J. F. (1998).
lexia is not characterized by core deficits in visual Magnocellular visual function and children’s single
and auditory processing. Visual and auditory defi- word reading. Vision Research, 38, 471– 482.
cits occur in a minority of dyslexics. While we Cornelissen, P. L., Richardson, A., Mason, A., Fowler, S.,
found group differences between dyslexics and & Stein, J. (1995). Contrast sensitivity and coherent
controls on the visual and auditory tasks, it does motion detection measured at photopic luminance
not necessarily reflect an underlying sensory levels in dyslexics and controls. Vision Research, 35,
deficiency in dyslexics. As put forward by Roach 1483– 1494.
et al. (2004), the pattern of results may reflect a De Weirdt, W. (1988). Speech perception and fre-
quency discrimination in good and poor readers.
general nonsensory problem with task completion.
Applied Psycholinguistics, 9, 163– 183.
More generally, visual processing was not related
Eden, G. F., VanMeter, J. W., Rumsey, J. M.,
to either orthographic or phonological decoding Maisog, J. M., Woods, R. P., & Zeffiro, T. A.
skills. On the other hand, weak associations were (1996). Abnormal processing of visual motion in
found between auditory processing and phonolo- dyslexia revealed by functional brain imaging.
gical decoding skills. Nature, 382, 66 – 69.
Edwards, M., & Badcock, D. R. (1996). Global-motion
Manuscript received 16 November 2004 perception: Interaction of chromatic and luminance
Revised manuscript received 17 August 2005 signals. Vision Research, 36, 2423– 2431.
Revised manuscript accepted 4 October 2005 Edwards, V. T., & Hogben, J. H. (1999). New norms
PrEview proof published online 24 February 2006 for comparing children’s lexical and nonlexical
reading: A further look at subtyping dyslexia.
Australian Journal of Psychology, 51, 37 –49.
Evans, B. J. W., Drasdo, N., & Richards, I. L. (1994).
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