Anna Woollams, Matthew Lambon Ralph, Gaston Madrid, K.E. Patterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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 that individual differences in degree of semantic reliance during exception word reading predict 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 pre-central 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 modeling research to uncover their origins.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1757
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 22 Nov 2016


  • reading; semantics; phonology; acquired dyslexia; connectionist modelling; individual differences


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