A new study by University of Oxford researchers has highlighted the fact that people with dyslexia have greater difficulty in switching their attention from seeing something to hearing something.
“Imagine you are having a conversation with someone when suddenly you hear your name uttered behind you,” explained Dr Vanessa Harrar from the university’s experimental psychology department.
“Your attention shifts from the person you are talking to – the visual – to the sound behind you. This is an example of a cross-sensory shift of attention. We found that shifting attention from visual to auditory stimuli is particularly difficult for people who have dyslexia.”
The study, reported in the journal Current Biology, focused on 17 people who had been formally diagnosed with dyslexia and 19 people without any reading difficulties.
They were all asked to push a button as quickly as possible when they heard a sound, saw a dim flash or experienced both together. Researchers recorded and then analysed how fast they pressed the buttons.
All the volunteers’ reactions were fastest when the same type of stimulus was repeated. But those with dyslexia reacted more slowly than their peers when a sound followed a visual signal.
Further study is needed but the researchers think that people with dyslexia might learn the associations between letters and their sounds faster if they heard the sound first and then saw the corresponding letter or word – rather than the other way round. They also believe that playing action video games could help to improve reading and writing.
“Some people with dyslexia have more apparent auditory deficits, others visual, and perhaps others have more multisensory problems,” said Dr Harrar. “In the long term we’d like to be able to target dyslexia training programmes to the specific sensory deficit of each child.”