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Tiana M. Bochsler, Gunther Wagoner, Gordon E. Legge; Sensory and cognitive predictors of reading speed in children. Journal of Vision 2009;9(8):823. doi: 10.1167/9.8.823.
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Both higher-level cognitive factors and lower-level sensory factors influence reading speed. Previous work in our lab has identified visual-span size (the number of letters recognized with high accuracy without moving the eyes) as a sensory factor limiting reading speed. Here, we compare the effect of intelligence to the effect of visual-span size on reading speed. We also asked whether these cognitive and sensory factors have independent effects on reading speed. The trigram letter-recognition method was used to obtain a profile of letter recognition accuracy as a function of horizontal distance from the midline, and visual span was operationally defined as the area under this curve. Visual-span size and Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP) reading speed were measured in eleven native-English-speaking children (ages 10–14) and eleven adults (ages 18–20) with normal or corrected-to-normal vision. The letter size was 1° (x-height). Children also completed two subtests of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-IV). The Vocabulary subtest requires participants to give oral definitions of words, and the Block Design subtest of perceptual reasoning requires participants to replicate a geometrical design. Vocabulary score was a significant predictor of reading speed, explaining 51% of the variance. Block Design score was not a significant predictor of reading speed. Visual-span size was a significant predictor of reading speed in both children and adults, explaining 35% of the variance. The Vocabulary score and visual-span size were not independent predictors of reading speed, but were highly correlated (r = 0.74). Like vocabulary size, visual-span size can be expanded with practice. It is possible that this correlation between cognitive and sensory predictors of reading speed occurred because both vocabulary size and visual-span size increase with the amount of reading experience during childhood.
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