The reading and spelling deficits characteristic of developmental dyslexia (dyslexia) have been related to problems in phonological processing and in learning associations between letters and speech-sounds. Even when children with dyslexia have learned the letters and their corresponding speech sounds, letter-speech sound associations might still be less automatized compared to children with age-adequate literacy skills. In order to examine automaticity in letter-speech sound associations and to overcome some of the disadvantages associated with the frequently used visual-auditory oddball paradigm, we developed a novel electrophysiological letter-speech sound interference paradigm. This letter-speech sound interference paradigm was applied in a group of 9-year-old children with dyslexia (n = 36) and a group of typically developing (TD) children of similar age (n = 37). Participants had to indicate whether two letters look visually the same. In the incongruent condition (e.g., the letter pair A-a) there was a conflict between the visual information and the automatically activated phonological information; although the visual appearance of the two letters is different, they are both associated with the same speech sound. This conflict resulted in slower response times (RTs) in the incongruent than in the congruent (e.g., the letter pair A-e) condition. Furthermore, in the TD control group, the conflict resulted in fast and strong event-related potential (ERP) effects reflected in less negative N1 amplitudes and more positive conflict slow potentials (cSP) in the incongruent than in the congruent condition. However, the dyslexic group did not show any conflict-related ERP effects, implying that letter-speech sound associations are less automatized in this group. Furthermore, we examined general visual conflict processing in a control visual interference task, using false fonts. The conflict in this experiment was based purely on the visual similarity of the presented objects. Visual conflict resulted in slower RTs, less negative N2 amplitudes and more positive cSP in both groups. Thus, on a general, basic level, visual conflict processing does not seem to be affected in children with dyslexia.
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- letter-speech sound associations
- visual conflict processing
- conflict slow potential