Authors: Matthew H. Schneps, James R. Brockmole, Gerhard Sonnert, Marc Pomplun.

Article: History of Reading Struggles Linked to Enhanced Learning in Low Spatial Frequency Scenes.

Publication: PLOS ONE (PLOS ONE). 7(4), e35724 | Published: April 27, 2012 2012 | DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0035724

[Full Text] [PubMed]


People with dyslexia, who face lifelong struggles with reading, exhibit numerous associated low-level sensory deficits including deficits in focal attention. Countering this, studies have shown that struggling readers outperform typical readers in some visual tasks that integrate distributed information across an expanse. Though such abilities would be expected to facilitate scene memory, prior investigations using the contextual cueing paradigm failed to find corresponding advantages in dyslexia. We suggest that these studies were confounded by task-dependent effects exaggerating known focal attention deficits in dyslexia, and that, if natural scenes were used as the context, advantages would emerge. Here, we investigate this hypothesis by comparing college students with histories of severe lifelong reading difficulties (SR) and typical readers (TR) in contexts that vary attention load. We find no differences in contextual-cueing when spatial contexts are letter-like objects, or when contexts are natural scenes. However, the SR group significantly outperforms the TR group when contexts are low-pass filtered natural scenes [F(3, 39) = 3.15, p<.05]. These findings suggest that perception or memory for low spatial frequency components in scenes is enhanced in dyslexia. These findings are important because they suggest strengths for spatial learning in a population otherwise impaired, carrying implications for the education and support of students who face challenges in school.

Tagged as: dyslexic strengths, visual memory, and visual processing


Schneps, M. H., Brockmole, J. R., Sonnert, G., & Pomplun, M. (2012). History of reading struggles linked to enhanced learning in low spatial frequency scenes. PloS one, 7(4), e35724.

Excerpts from Full Text / Notes:

The finding that college students with dyslexia are able to learn in some circumstances where typical readers cannot carries a
number of important implications for education. It suggests that college students with dyslexia may benefit from encouragement in
careers in which sensitivity to low spatial frequency scenes is valued. Radiology, astronomy, and cellular microscopy are all
examples of domains making intensive use of spatial information in images that are blurred. Skills in processing blurred images may
be beneficial also in other science-related fields. Furthermore, our findings show that contextual cueing is effective in counteracting
latencies due to deficits in search, and therefore scene learning can serve as an effective compensatory technique for students with
dyslexia. Practiced abilities for spatial learning can be used to spatially anchor memories for episodic information (such as names
and dates). Such techniques have already been observed to effectively compensate for lapses in non-spatial memory in the
elderly. Similar gains can be expected in dyslexia.

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