The extent to which meaning is involved in reading aloud has proven an area of longstanding debate, and current computational models differ on this dimension. The connectionist triangle model proposes that normal individuals rely on semantic information for correct reading of words with atypical spelling-sound relationships, but to varying degrees. This proposed individual difference would account for the varying stage of decline at which patients with semantic dementia first show the reading impairment known as surface dyslexia. Recent neuroimaging data has provided validation of this view, showing individual differences in degree of semantic reliance during exception word reading predicts the amount of activation in left anterior temporal regions associated with semantic processing. This study aimed to establish the cognitive correlates of individual differences in semantic reliance during exception word reading. Experiment 1 used a subgrouping approach with 32 participants and found larger imageability and semantic priming effects specifically for exception word reading amongst high relative to low semantic reliance readers. High semantic reliance readers also tended to read nonwords more slowly than low semantic reliance readers. A second experiment used a regression approach with 129 readers and confirmed the relationship of degree of semantic reliance both to imageability effects in exception word reading and speed of nonword reading. Further, while the performance of the higher semantic readers revealed no significant association with semantic processing tasks, there was a negative relationship with rhyme processing tasks. We therefore speculate that differences in phonological abilities may be responsible for varying degrees of semantic reliance in reading aloud. This proposal accords with the results of functional imaging showing that higher semantic reliance during exception word reading corresponds to lower activation in left precentral gyrus, an area associated with direct spelling sound mapping and phonological processing. Our results therefore establish the nature of systematic individual differences in degree of semantic involvement amongst normal readers, and suggest directions for future neuroimaging and computational modelling research to uncover their origins.
Woollams, A. M., Lambon Ralph, M. A., Madrid, G., & Patterson, K. E. (2016). Do you read how i read? Systematic individual differences in semantic reliance amongst normal readers. Frontiers in Psychology, 7(NOV). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01757