Automaticity: A new framework for dyslexia research?

R. I. Nicolson*, A. J. Fawcett

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

433 Citations (Scopus)


The performance of a group of 23 13-year-old dyslexic children was compared with that of some-age controls on a battery of tests of motor balance. A dual-task paradigm was used-subjects performed each test twice, once as a single task, and once as a dual task concurrently with a secondary task. Two alternative secondary tasks were used, the classic counting-backwards task and an auditory choice reaction task. Both secondary tasks were calibrated for each subject to ensure that their performance on the secondary task alone fell between pre-specified performance criteria. In all single-task conditions there was no difference between the performance of the two groups. By contrast, in 19 out of the 20 tests performed under dual-task conditions, the dyslexic group were significantly impaired, whereas the controls showed no impairment, thus resulting in significantly better performance by the control group than the dyslexic group. The sole exception was that the dyslexic children were not impaired on the easiest balance condition with the choice reaction task. Under the dual-task conditions the dyslexic children also performed worse than the controls on the secondary task. It is very hard to accomodate the findings within the traditional framework of a deficit specific to lexical skills. One plausible explanation of the results is that, unlike the controls, the dyslexic children need to invest significant conscious resources for monitoring balance, and thus their performance is adversely affected by any secondary task which serves to distract attention from the primary task. This need for "conscious compensation" suggests that for dyslexic children the skill of motor balance is poorly automized. It is possible, therefore, that many of the reading deficits of dyslexic children are merely symptoms of a more general learning deficit-the failure to fully automize skills.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-182
Number of pages24
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 1990


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