Authors: Jones Manon W., Kuipers Jan-Rouke, Thierry Guillaume.

Article: ERPs Reveal the Time-Course of Aberrant Visual-Phonological Binding in Developmental Dyslexia.

Publication: Frontiers in Human Neuroscience (Frontiers). Vol. 10, p. 71 2016 | DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2016.00071

[Full Text]


New evidence is accumulating for a deficit in binding visual-orthographic information with the corresponding phonological code in developmental dyslexia. Here, we identify the mechanisms underpinning this deficit using event-related brain potentials (ERPs) in dyslexic and control adult readers performing a letter-matching task. In each trial, a printed letter was presented synchronously with an auditory letter name. Incongruent (mismatched), frequent trials were interleaved with congruent (matched) infrequent target pairs, which participants were asked to report by pressing a button. In critical trials, incongruent letter pairs were mismatched but confusable in terms of their visual or phonological features. Typical readers showed early detection of deviant trials, indicated by larger modulation in the range of the phonological mismatch negativity (PMN) compared with standard trials. This was followed by stronger modulation of the P3b wave for visually confusable deviants and an increased lateralized readiness potential (LRP) for phonological deviants, compared with standards. In contrast, dyslexic readers showed reduced sensitivity to deviancy in the PMN range. Responses to deviants in the P3b range indicated normal letter recognition processes, but the LRP calculation revealed a specific impairment for visual-orthographic information during response selection in dyslexia. In a follow-up experiment using an analogous non-lexical task in the same participants, we found no reading-group differences, indicating a degree of specificity to over-learnt visual-phonological binding. Our findings indicate early insensitivity to visual-phonological binding in developmental dyslexia, coupled with difficulty selecting the correct orthographic code.


First, our findings corroborate previous evidence that dyslexic readers do not automatically integrate letters with auditory letter names during the early stages of letter processing. We moreover show that this effect is amodal: dyslexic readers are relatively insensitive to visual-orthographic and phonological similarity during the early stages of letter processing. Downstream, dyslexic readers’ explicit recognition of letters—indicated by modulation of P3b amplitudes—show normal sensitivity to the visual-orthographic and phonological characteristics of letters. However, when required to select one of these representations for output, visual-orthographic similarity becomes a problem, leading to uncertainty in preparing a motor response, and an increase in error rate. Our findings reveal a shift in visual-orthographic and phonological sensitivity as a function of reading ability: typical readers are highly tuned to visual-orthographic and phonological letter properties from an early processing stage, whereas dyslexic readers activate this information later; potentially precluding efficient selection of the letter’s identity from competing alternatives during the output/decision stage.


We thus suggest that adult dyslexic readers fail to form precise, automatic visual-phonological mappings, with consequences for the ability to verify the visual-orthographic characteristics of print for stimulus selection and output, consistent with other recent findings in the field of RAN…. Two further points should be considered here. First, we find no evidence in the current study to support a primary phonological deficit as a possible cause of the putative recoding impairment. And second, any underspecification of orthographic representations in these adult, high-functioning dyslexic readers cannot be severe, since our data indicated normal sensitivity to visual-orthographic characteristics in the context of letter recognition.


To conclude, this study used a letter-matching task to examine the integrity of visual-orthogaphic and phonological links in developmental dyslexia. Our findings show that adult, high functioning dyslexic readers can develop orthographic representations that are sufficiently specified to fully activate likely candidates, based on the input. However, their apparent failure to automatize visual-phonological connections impairs their ability to select a single representation for output, a process that relies not only on highly specified orthographic representations, but also robust visual-to-phonological mapping.


Tagged as: event related potentials (ERP), letter recognition, orthographic mapping, visual processing, and visual-phonological integration

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