Attention extends beyond single words in beginning readers


  • Snell Joshua
  • Cauchi Christophe Sylvain
  • Grainger Jonathan
  • Lété Bernard


  • Reading
  • Attention
  • Development

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A common notion is that during the first stages of learning to read, attention is narrowly focused so as to encompass only a single or a few letters. In skilled adult readers, however, attention extends beyond single words. The latter is evidenced by faster recognition of words that have many letters in common with surrounding words, along with correlations between such integration effects and measures of attention. These premises suggest that the distribution of attention gradually increases as a function of reading skill, and that this progression can be mapped by measuring spatial integration effects across the course of reading development. The latter was undertaken in the present study, in which we employed the flanker paradigm combined with the lexical decision task. Children in grades 1-6 (N = 113) were shown central target words flanked by various types of orthographically related and unrelated flanking stimuli. Against expectations, significant effects of flanker relatedness on word recognition speed were found in the youngest children, and this effect was not modulated by reading age. Our results challenge the notion that attention is focused on single letters in beginning readers, and instead suggest that, from the earliest stages of reading development, orthographic processing can extend beyond single words.

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