To which extent can attention and/or modulation explains deficits in dyslexia?

  • Mohamad Mohamad Cassim

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis investigates the visual deficits associated with developmental dyslexia, particularly that of visual attention. Visual attention has previously been investigated in a wide array of behavioural and psychophysical (amongst others) studies but not many have produced consistent findings. Attention processes are believed to play an integral part in depicting the overall "extent" of reading deficits in dyslexia, so it was of paramount importance to aim at such attention mechanisms in this research.
The experiments in this thesis focused on signal enhancement and noise (distractor) exclusion. Given the flexibility of the visual search paradigms employed in this research, factors such as visual crowding and attention distribution was also investigated. The experiments systematically manipulated noise (by increasing distractor count, i.e. set-size), crowding (varying the spacing between distractors), attention allocation (use of peripheral cues to direct attention), and attention distribution (influence of one visual field over the other), all of which were tied to a critical factor, the "location/spatial/decisional uncertainty".
Adults with dyslexia were: (i) able to modulate attention appropriately using peripheral pre-cues, (ii) severely affected by crowding, and (iii) unable to counteract increased set-sizes when post or un-cued, the latter signifying poor distractor (noise) suppression. By controlling for location uncertainty, the findings confirmed that adults with dyslexia were yet again affected by crowding and set-size, in addition to an asymmetric attention distribution. Confounding effects of ADHD symptoms did not explain a significant independent variance in performance, suggesting that the difficulty shown by adult dyslexics were not accounted for by co-morbid ADHD. Furthermore, the effects of crowding, set-size and asymmetric attention correlated significantly with literacy, but not ADHD measures.
It is believed that a more diffuse and an asymmetric attention system (in dyslexia) to be the limiting factor concerning noise exclusion and attention distribution. The findings from this thesis add to the current understanding of the potential role of deficits in visual attention in dyslexia and in the literacy difficulties experienced by this population.
Date of Award23 Jan 2015
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJoel Talcott (Supervisor) & Liz Moores (Supervisor)


  • dyslexia
  • attention
  • noise exclusion
  • visual crowding
  • asymmetric attention

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