In alphabetic orthographies, letter identification is a critical process during the recognition of visually presented words. In the present experiment, we examined whether and when visual form influences letter processing in two very distinct alphabets (Roman and Arabic). Disentangling visual versus abstract letter representations was possible because letters in the Roman alphabet may look visually similar/dissimilar in lowercase and uppercase forms (e.g., c-C vs. r-R) and letters in the Arabic alphabet may look visually similar/dissimilar, depending on their position within a word (e.g., vs. -). We employed a masked priming same–different matching task while ERPs were measured from individuals who had learned the two alphabets at an early age. Results revealed a prime–target relatedness effect dependent on visual form in early components (P/N150) and a more abstract relatedness effect in a later component (P300). Importantly, the pattern of data was remarkably similar in the two alphabets. Thus, these data offer empirical support for a universal (i.e., across alphabets) hierarchical account of letter processing in which the time course of letter processing in different scripts follows a similar trajectory from visual features to visual form independent of abstract representations.
Typical U.S. children use their knowledge of letters' names to help learn the letters' sounds. They perform better on letter sound tests with letters that have their sounds at the beginnings of their names, such as v, than with letters that have their sounds at the ends of their names, such as m, and letters that do not have their sounds in their names, such as h. We found this same pattern among children with speech sound disorders, children with language impairments as well as speech sound disorders, and children who later developed serious reading problems. Even children who scored at chance on rhyming and sound matching tasks performed better on the letter sound task with letters such as v than with letters such as m and h. Our results suggest that a wide range of children use the names of letters to help learn the sounds and that phonological awareness, as conventionally measured, is not required in order to do so.
Preschool-aged children (n = 58) were randomly assigned to receive instruction in letter names and sounds, letter sounds only, or numbers (control). Multilevel modeling was used to examine letter name and sound learning as a function of instructional condition and characteristics of both letters and children. Specifically, learning was examined in light of letter name structure, whether letter names included cues to their respective sounds, and children’s phonological processing skills. Consistent with past research, children receiving letter name and sound instruction were most likely to learn the sounds of letters whose names included cues to their sounds, regardless of phonological processing skills. Only children with higher phonological skills showed a similar effect in the control condition. Practical implications are discussed.
emergent literacy; alphabet; letter names; letter sounds; phonological processing
The purpose of this study was to examine which emergent literacy skills contribute to preschool children’s emergent writing (name-writing, letter-writing, and spelling) skills. Emergent reading and writing tasks were administered to 296 preschool children aged 4–5 years. Print knowledge and letter-writing skills made positive contributions to name writing; whereas alphabet knowledge, print knowledge, and name writing made positive contributions to letter writing. Both name-writing and letter-writing skills made significant contributions to the prediction of spelling after controlling for age, parental education, print knowledge, phonological awareness, and letter-name and letter-sound knowledge; however, only letter-writing abilities made a significant unique contribution to the prediction of spelling when both letter-writing and name-writing skills were considered together. Name writing reflects knowledge of some letters rather than a broader knowledge of letters that may be needed to support early spelling. Children’s letter-writing skills may be a better indicator of children’s emergent literacy and developing spelling skills than are their name-writing skills at the end of the preschool year. Spelling is a developmentally complex skill beginning in preschool and includes letter writing and blending skills, print knowledge, and letter-name and letter-sound knowledge.
alphabet knowledge; emergent literacy; letter writing; name-writing; spelling
Reading skills are core competencies in children's readiness to learn and may be particularly important for children in foster care, who are at risk for academic difficulties and higher rates of special education placement. In this study, prereading skills (phonological awareness, alphabetic knowledge, and oral language ability) and kindergarten performance of 63 children in foster care were examined just prior to and during the fall of kindergarten. The children exhibited prereading deficits with average prereading scores that fell at the 30th to 40th percentile. Variations in prereading skills (particularly phonological awareness) predicted kindergarten teacher ratings of early literacy skills in a multivariate path analysis. These findings highlight the need for interventions focused on prereading skills for children in foster care.
foster care; reading; early literacy; school readiness; kindergarten
Learning about letters is an important foundation for literacy development. Should children be taught to label letters by conventional names, such as /bi/ for b, or by sounds, such as /bə/? We queried parents and teachers, finding those in the U.S. stress letter names with young children whereas those in England begin with sounds. Looking at 5- to 7-year-old children in the two countries, we found that U.S. children were better at providing the names of letters than English children. English children outperformed U.S. children on letter-sound tasks, and differences between children in the two countries declined with age. We further found that children use the first-learned set of labels to inform the learning of the second set. As a result, English and U.S. children made different types of errors in letter-name and letter-sound tasks. The children’s invented spellings also differed in ways reflecting the labels they used for letters.
Letter names are stressed in informal and formal literacy instruction with young children in the US, whereas letters sounds are stressed in England. We examined the impact of these differences on English children of about 5 and 6 years of age (in reception year and Year 1, respectively) and US 6 year olds (in kindergarten). Children in both countries spelled short vowels, as in bag, more accurately than long vowels, as in gate. The superiority for short vowels was larger for children from England, consistent with the instructional emphasis on letter sounds. Errors such as gat for words with long vowels such as gate were more common among US children, reflecting these children’s use of vowels’ names as a guide to spelling. The English children’s performance on a letter knowledge task was influenced by the fact that they are often taught letter sounds with reference to lowercase letters and letter names with reference to uppercase letters, and their spellings showed some effects of this practice. Although emphasis on letter sounds as opposed to letter names influences children’s patterns of performance and types of errors, it does not make the difficult English writing system markedly easier to master.
spelling; vowels; letter names; letter sounds; letter knowledge; literacy instruction
As a means toward understanding the neural bases of schizophrenic thought disturbance, we examined brain activation patterns in response to semantically and superficially encoded words in patients with schizophrenia. Nine male schizophrenic and 9 male control subjects were tested in a visual levels of processing (LOP) task first outside the magnet and then during the fMRI scanning procedures (using a different set of words). During the experiments visual words were presented under two conditions. Under the deep, semantic encoding condition, subjects made semantic judgments as to whether the words were abstract or concrete. Under the shallow, nonsemantic encoding condition, subjects made perceptual judgments of the font size (uppercase/lowercase) of the presented words. After performance of the behavioral task, a recognition test was used to assess the depth of processing effect, defined as better performance for semantically encoded words than for perceptually encoded words. For the scanned version only, the words for both conditions were repeated in order to assess repetition-priming effects. Reaction times were assessed in both testing scenarios. Both groups showed the expected depth of processing effect for recognition, and control subjects showed the expected increased activation of the left inferior prefrontal cortex (LIPC) under semantic encoding relative to perceptual encoding conditions as well as repetition priming for semantic conditions only. In contrast, schizophrenics showed similar patterns of fMRI activation regardless of condition. Most striking in relation to controls, patients showed decreased LIFC activation concurrent with increased left superior temporal gyrus activation for semantic encoding versus shallow encoding. Furthermore, schizophrenia subjects did not show the repetition priming effect, either behaviorally or as a decrease in LIPC activity. In patients with schizophrenia, LIFC underactivation and left superior temporal gyrus overactivation for semantically encoded words may reflect a disease-related disruption of a distributed frontal temporal network that is engaged in the representation and processing of meaning of words, text, and discourse and which may underlie schizophrenic thought disturbance.
This study demonstrates recombinative generalization of within-syllable units in prereading children. Three kindergarten children learned to select printed consonant-vowel-consonant words upon hearing the corresponding spoken words. The words were taught in sets; there were six sets, presented consecutively. Within sets, the four words that were taught had overlapping letters, for example, sat, mat, sop, and sug. Tests for recombinative generalization determined whether the children selected novel words with the same components as the trained words (e.g., mop and mug). Two children demonstrated recombinative generalization after one training set, and the 3rd demonstrated it after two training sets. In contrast, 2 other children, who received tests but no training, showed low accuracy across six sets. The 3 experimental children then demonstrated highly accurate printed-word-to-picture matching, and named the majority of the printed words. These findings are a promising step in the development of a computerized instructional technology for reading.
Learning the sounds of letters is an important part of learning a writing system. Most previous studies of this process have examined English, focusing on variations in the phonetic iconicity of letter names as a reason why some letter sounds (such as that of b, where the sound is at the beginning of the letter’s name) are easier to learn than others (such as that of w, where the sound is not in the name). The present study examined Hebrew, where variations in the phonetic iconicity of letter names are minimal. In a study of 391 Israeli children with a mean age of 5 years, 10 months, we used multilevel models to examine the factors that are associated with knowledge of letter sounds. One set of factors involved letter names: Children sometimes attributed to a letter a consonant–vowel sound consisting of the first phonemes of the letter’s name. A second set of factors involved contrast: Children had difficulty when there was relatively little contrast in shape between one letter and others. Frequency was also important, encompassing both child-specific effects, such as a benefit for the first letter of a child’s forename, and effects that held true across children, such as a benefit for the first letters of the alphabet. These factors reflect general properties of human learning.
Alphabet; Hebrew; Letter names; Letter sounds
The ability to identify letters and encode their position is a crucial step of the word recognition process. However and despite their word identification problem, the ability of dyslexic children to encode letter identity and letter-position within strings was not systematically investigated. This study aimed at filling this gap and further explored how letter identity and letter-position encoding is modulated by letter context in developmental dyslexia. For this purpose, a letter-string comparison task was administered to French dyslexic children and two chronological age (CA) and reading age (RA)-matched control groups. Children had to judge whether two successively and briefly presented four-letter strings were identical or different. Letter-position and letter identity were manipulated through the transposition (e.g., RTGM vs. RMGT) or substitution of two letters (e.g., TSHF vs. TGHD). Non-words, pseudo-words, and words were used as stimuli to investigate sub-lexical and lexical effects on letter encoding. Dyslexic children showed both substitution and transposition detection problems relative to CA-controls. A substitution advantage over transpositions was only found for words in dyslexic children whereas it extended to pseudo-words in RA-controls and to all type of items in CA-controls. Letters were better identified in the dyslexic group when belonging to orthographically familiar strings. Letter-position encoding was very impaired in dyslexic children who did not show any word context effect in contrast to CA-controls. Overall, the current findings point to a strong letter identity and letter-position encoding disorder in developmental dyslexia.
letter-string processing; letter-position encoding; letter-identity encoding; letter transposition; letter substitution; reading acquisition; dyslexic children
Computer-based instruction may yield widely useful handwritten spelling. Illustrative cases involved individuals with mental retardation and hearing impairments. The participant in Study 1 matched computer pictures and printed words to one another but did not spell the words to pictures. Spelling was then taught using a computerized procedure. In general, increases in the accuracy of computer spelling were accompanied by improvements in written spelling to pictures. Study 2 extended these results with a 2nd participant. After initial training, spelling improved in the context of a retrieval task in which the participant (a) wrote a list of the names of objects displayed on a table, (b) selected the objects from a shelf, and (c) returned the objects to the table. Nearly perfect accuracy scores declined on some retrieval trials conducted without a list, suggesting that the list may have served a mediating function during retrieval. Transfer of stimulus control of computer-based teaching to the retrieval task may have been attributable to the existence of stimulus classes involving pictures, objects, and printed words.
We used event-related brain potentials (ERPs) to study effects of selective attention on the processing of attended and unattended spoken syllables and letters. Participants were presented with syllables randomly occurring in the left or right ear and spoken by different voices and with a concurrent foveal stream of consonant letters written in darker or lighter fonts. During auditory phonological (AP) and non-phonological tasks, they responded to syllables in a designated ear starting with a vowel and spoken by female voices, respectively. These syllables occurred infrequently among standard syllables starting with a consonant and spoken by male voices. During visual phonological and non-phonological tasks, they responded to consonant letters with names starting with a vowel and to letters written in dark fonts, respectively. These letters occurred infrequently among standard letters with names starting with a consonant and written in light fonts. To examine genuine effects of attention and task on ERPs not overlapped by ERPs associated with target processing or deviance detection, these effects were studied only in ERPs to auditory and visual standards. During selective listening to syllables in a designated ear, ERPs to the attended syllables were negatively displaced during both phonological and non-phonological auditory tasks. Selective attention to letters elicited an early negative displacement and a subsequent positive displacement (Pd) of ERPs to attended letters being larger during the visual phonological than non-phonological task suggesting a higher demand for attention during the visual phonological task. Active suppression of unattended speech during the AP and non-phonological tasks and during the visual phonological tasks was suggested by a rejection positivity (RP) to unattended syllables. We also found evidence for suppression of the processing of task-irrelevant visual stimuli in visual ERPs during auditory tasks involving left-ear syllables.
attention; suppression; event-related potential; EEG; audition; speech
This study investigated the phonological processing skills of 29 children with prelingual, profound hearing loss with 4 years of cochlear implant experience. Results were group matched with regard to word-reading ability and mother’s educational level with the performance of 29 hearing children. Results revealed that it is possible to obtain a valid measure of phonological processing (PP) skills in children using CIs. They could complete rhyming tasks and were able to complete sound-based tasks using standard test materials provided by a commercial test distributor. The CI children completed tasks measuring PP, but there were performance differences between the CI users and the hearing children. The process of learning phonological awareness (PA) for the children with CIs was characterized by a longer, more protracted learning phase than their counterparts with hearing. Tests of phonological memory skills indicated that when the tasks were controlled for presentation method and response modality, there were no differences between the performance of children with CIs and their counterparts with hearing. Tests of rapid naming revealed that there were no differences between rapid letter and number naming between the two groups. Results yielded a possible PP test battery for children with CI experience.
Individuals learn to read by gradually recognizing repeated letter combinations. However, it is unclear how or when neural mechanisms associated with repetition of basic stimuli (i.e., strings of letters) shift to involvement of higher-order language networks. The present study investigated this question by repeatedly presenting unfamiliar letter strings in a one-back matching task during an hour-long period. Activation patterns indicated that only brain areas associated with visual processing were activated during the early period, but additional regions that are usually associated with semantic and phonological processing in inferior frontal gyrus were recruited after stimuli became more familiar. Changes in activation were also observed in bilateral superior temporal cortex, also suggestive of a shift toward a more language-based processing strategy. Connectivity analyses reveal two distinct networks that correspond to phonological and visual processing, which may reflect the indirect and direct routes of reading. The phonological route maintained a similar degree of connectivity throughout the experiment, whereas visual areas increased connectivity with language areas as stimuli became more familiar, suggesting early recruitment of the direct route. This study provides insight about plasticity of the brain as individuals become familiar with unfamiliar combinations of letters (i.e., words in a new language, new acronyms) and has implications for engaging these linguistic networks during development of language remediation therapies.
letter strings; fMRI; connectivity; reading; learning; plasticity
Performance for a variety of visual tasks improves with practice. The purpose of this study was to determine the nature of the processes underlying perceptual learning of identifying letters in peripheral vision. To do so, we tracked changes in contrast thresholds for identifying single letters presented at 10° in the inferior visual field, over a period of six consecutive days. The letters (26 lowercase Times-Roman letters, subtending 1.7°) were embedded within static two-dimensional Gaussian luminance noise, with rms contrast ranging from 0% (no noise) to 20%. We also measured the observers’ response consistency using a double-pass method on days 1, 3 and 6, by testing two additional blocks on each of these days at luminance noise of 3% and 20%. These additional blocks were the exact replicates of the corresponding block at the same noise contrast that was tested on the same day. We analyzed our results using both the linear amplifier model (LAM) and the perceptual template model (PTM). Our results showed that following six days of training, the overall reduction (improvement across all noise levels) in contrast threshold for our seven observers averaged 21.6% (range: 17.2–31%). Despite fundamental differences between LAM and PTM, both models show that learning leads to an improvement of the perceptual template (filter) such that the template is more capable of extracting the crucial information from the signal. Results from both the PTM analysis and the double-pass experiment imply that the stimulus-dependent component of the internal noise does not change with learning.
Perceptual learning; Training; Letter identification; Peripheral vision
Students with academic deficits learned delayed matching-to-sample tasks that used complex sample stimuli, each consisting of a picture and a printed word. A touch to the sample complex removed it from the computer display and produced either picture comparisons or a choice pool of letters. If the comparisons were pictures, selecting the picture identical to the preceding sample was reinforced. If the letters appeared, letter-by-letter construction of the preceding printed word sample was reinforced. The procedure engendered new constructed-response spelling performances and arbitrary relations among pictures and printed words in matching to sample. The emergence of relations among different sets of printed words (paired with the same pictures) suggested classes of equivalent stimuli. Outcome tests involving spoken words as sample stimuli suggested expansion of subjects' spelling repertoires and stimulus classes.
Amblyopia is a developmental abnormality that results in deficits for a wide range of visual tasks, most notably, the reduced ability to see fine details, the loss in contrast sensitivity especially for small objects and the difficulty in seeing objects in clutter (crowding). The primary goal of this study was to evaluate whether crowding can be ameliorated in adults with amblyopia through perceptual learning using a flanked letter identification task that was designed to reduce crowding, and if so, whether the improvements transfer to untrained visual functions: visual acuity, contrast sensitivity and the size of visual span (the amount of information obtained in one fixation). To evaluate whether the improvements following this training task were specific to training with flankers, we also trained another group of adult observers with amblyopia using a single letter identification task that was designed to improve letter contrast sensitivity, not crowding. Following 10,000 trials of training, both groups of observers showed improvements in the respective training task. The improvements generalized to improved visual acuity, letter contrast sensitivity, size of the visual span, and reduced crowding. The magnitude of the improvement for each of these measurements was similar in the two training groups. Perceptual learning regimens aimed at reducing crowding or improving letter contrast sensitivity are both effective in improving visual acuity, contrast sensitivity for near-acuity objects and reducing the crowding effect, and could be useful as a clinical treatment for amblyopia.
Some children with speech sound disorders (SSD) have difficulty with literacy-related skills, particularly phonological awareness (PA). This study investigates the PA skills of preschoolers with SSD using a regression model to evaluate the degree to which PA can be concurrently predicted by types of speech sound errors.
Preschoolers with SSD (n=43) participated in PA and speech sound production assessment. Errors from a 125-item picture naming task were coded in two ways: (1) considering all consonant errors equally (Percent Consonants Correct, PCC), and (2) using a three-category system that captures component features of sound errors: typical sound changes, atypical sound changes, and distortions. PA tasks included rhyme matching, onset matching, onset segmentation and matching, and blending.
Variance in a PA composite score could be predicted partly by vocabulary and age (33%). Atypical sound changes accounted for an additional 6% of variance in PA, but distortions and typical errors did not account for significant variance. When the same consonant errors were analyzed using PCC, speech errors did not predict significant variance in PA.
Poorer PA is associated with lower receptive vocabularies and more atypical sound errors. Results are interpreted in the context of the accuracy of phonological representations.
speech sound errors; atypical errors; phonological awareness; preschool
Children often make letter reversal errors when first learning to read and write, even for letters whose reversed forms do not appear in normal print. However, the brain basis of such letter reversal in children learning to read is unknown. The present study compared the neuroanatomical correlates (via functional magnetic resonance imaging) and the electrophysiological correlates (via event-related potentials or ERPs) of this phenomenon in children, ages 5–12, relative to young adults. When viewing reversed letters relative to typically oriented letters, adults exhibited widespread occipital, parietal, and temporal lobe activations, including activation in the functionally localized visual word form area (VWFA) in left occipito-temporal cortex. Adults exhibited significantly greater activation than children in all of these regions; children only exhibited such activation in a limited frontal region. Similarly, on the P1 and N170 ERP components, adults exhibited significantly greater differences between typical and reversed letters than children, who failed to exhibit significant differences between typical and reversed letters. These findings indicate that adults distinguish typical and reversed letters in the early stages of specialized brain processing of print, but that children do not recognize this distinction during the early stages of processing. Specialized brain processes responsible for early stages of letter perception that distinguish between typical and reversed letters may develop slowly and remain immature even in older children who no longer produce letter reversals in their writing.
This fMRI study investigates how audiovisual integration differs for verbal stimuli that can be matched at a phonological level and nonverbal stimuli that can be matched at a semantic level. Subjects were presented simultaneously with one visual and one auditory stimulus and were instructed to decide whether these stimuli referred to the same object or not. Verbal stimuli were simultaneously presented spoken and written object names, and nonverbal stimuli were photographs of objects simultaneously presented with naturally occurring object sounds. Stimulus differences were controlled by including two further conditions that paired photographs of objects with spoken words and object sounds with written words. Verbal matching, relative to all other conditions, increased activation in a region of the left superior temporal sulcus that has previously been associated with phonological processing. Nonverbal matching, relative to all other conditions, increased activation in a right fusiform region that has previously been associated with structural and conceptual object processing. Thus, we demonstrate how brain activation for audiovisual integration depends on the verbal content of the stimuli, even when stimulus and task processing differences are controlled.
Audiovisual; Integration; Verbal; Nonverbal; Semantic; Conceptual; Phonological; Amodal
Despite the need for braille literacy, there has been little attempt to systematically evaluate braille-instruction programs. The current study evaluated an instructive procedure for teaching early braille-reading skills with 4 school-aged children with degenerative visual impairments. Following a series of pretests, braille instruction involved providing a sample braille letter and teaching the selection of the corresponding printed letter from a comparison array. Concomitant with increases in the accuracy of this skill, we assessed and captured the formation of equivalence classes through tests of symmetry and transitivity among the printed letters, the corresponding braille letters, and their spoken names.
braille; instruction; stimulus equivalence; visual impairment
Synesthesia is a phenomenon where a stimulus produces consistent extraordinary subjective experiences. A relatively common type of synesthesia involves perception of color when viewing letters (e.g. the letter ‘a’ always appears as light blue). In this study, we examine whether traits typically regarded as markers of synesthesia can be acquired by simply reading in color.
Non-synesthetes were given specially prepared colored books to read. A modified Stroop task was administered before and after reading. A perceptual crowding task was administered after reading. Reading one book (>49,000 words) was sufficient to induce effects regarded as behavioral markers for synesthesia. The results of the Stroop tasks indicate that it is possible to learn letter-color associations through reading in color (F(1, 14) = 5.85, p = .030). Furthermore, Stroop effects correlated with subjective reports about experiencing letters in color (r(13) = 0.51, p = .05). The frequency of viewing letters is related to the level of association as seen by the difference in the Stroop effect size between upper- and lower-case letters (t(14) = 2.79, p = .014) and in a subgroup of participants whose Stroop effects increased as they continued to read in color. Readers did not show significant performance advantages on the crowding task compared to controls. Acknowledging the many differences between trainees and synesthetes, results suggest that it may be possible to acquire a subset of synesthetic behavioral traits in adulthood through training.
To our knowledge, this is the first evidence of acquiring letter-color associations through reading in color. Reading in color appears to be a promising avenue in which we may explore the differences and similarities between synesthetes and non-synesthetes. Additionally, reading in color is a plausible method for a long-term ‘synesthetic’ training program.
Attention and concentration are valuable skills for all fields of human activity. Training to improve these skills is described in ancient hatha yoga texts.
To study the effect of 1-min Kapalabhati (KB1) and 5-min Kapalabhati (KB5) practice of the Yoga rapid breathing exercise, Kapalabhati (KB), on psychomotor performance, as measured by the six-letter cancellation task (SLCT) and digit-letter substitution task (DLST).
Materials and Methods:
Thirty-six subjects, 21 male (mean age 25.71 years, SD 2.10), 15 female (mean age 24.13 years, SD 2.23) participated in the study. All were participating in a 3-month pranayama training program, part of residential degree courses at Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana, Yoga University. The subjects were divided into two groups, and assessed on the SLCT and DLST, immediately before and after KB on two successive days. The first group did KB1 on day 1, and KB5 on day 2. For the second group, the order was reversed.
There were no significant differences on SLCT and DLST on Total and Net Scores between sessions for the same group, and between groups for the same session i.e. the effects of KB1 and KB5 were not distinguishable. However, both groups made more errors on DLST after the interventions, 525% after KB1 and 562.5% after KB5, P < 0.018 and P < 0.041, respectively (Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test). In contrast, scores on SLCT remained completely unchanged.
Both KB1 and KB5 found no change on both SLCT and DLST. But, this kind of breathing practices leads to increases error score.
DLST; high frequency yoga breathing; kapalabhati; pranayama; SLCT
Using an identity matching-to-sample procedure, normally developing prereaders who matched individual letters with high accuracy (e.g., m and s) did not show high accuracy in matching three-letter printed words that differed only in the first letter (e.g., mad and sad). Teachers and researchers should not assume that children who can discriminate individual letters can also discriminate minimally different words that contain those letters.