The goal of this study was to examine the claim that amodal deficits in attentional shifting may be the source of reading acquisition disorders in phonological developmental dyslexia (sluggish attentional shifting, SAS, theory, Hari & Renvall, 2001). We investigated automatic attentional shifting in the auditory and visual modalities in 13 dyslexic young adults with a phonological awareness deficit and 13 control participants, matched for cognitive abilities, using both behavioral and ERP measures. We tested automatic attentional shifting using a stream segregation task (perception of rapid succession of visual and auditory stimuli as one or two streams). Results of Experiment 1(behavioral) suggested that in order to process two successive stimuli separately dyslexic participants required a significantly longer inter-stimulus interval than controls regardless of sensory modality. In Experiment 2 (ERPs), the same participants were tested by means of an auditory and a visual oddball tasks involving variations in the tempo of the same alternating stimuli as Experiment 1. P3b amplitudes elicited by deviant tempos were differently modulated between groups, supporting predictions made on the basis of observations in Experiment 1. Overall, these results support the hypothesis that SAS in dyslexic participants might be responsible for their atypical perception of rapid sequential stimulus sequences in both the auditory and the visual modalities. Furthermore, these results bring new evidence supporting the link between amodal SAS and the phonological impairment in developmental dyslexia.
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