Reasoning and dyslexia: Is visual memory a compensatory resource?

Alison M. Bacon*, Simon J. Handley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Effective reasoning is fundamental to problem solving and achievement in education and employment. Protocol studies have previously suggested that people with dyslexia use reasoning strategies based on visual mental representations, whereas non-dyslexics use abstract verbal strategies. This research presents converging evidence from experimental and individual differences perspectives. In Experiment 1, dyslexic and non-dyslexic participants were similarly accurate on reasoning problems, but scores on a measure of visual memory ability only predicted reasoning accuracy for dyslexics. In Experiment 2, a secondary task loaded visual memory resources during concurrent reasoning. Dyslexics were significantly less accurate when reasoning under conditions of high memory load and showed reduced ability to subsequently recall the visual stimuli, suggesting that the memory and reasoning tasks were competing for the same visual cognitive resource. The results are consistent with an explanation based on limitations in the verbal and executive components of working memory in dyslexia and the use of compensatory visual strategies for reasoning. There are implications for cognitive activities that do not readily support visual thinking, whether in education, employment or less formal everyday settings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)330-345
Number of pages16
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Visual Patterns Test
  • dyslexia
  • reasoning
  • visual memory


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