Developmental dyslexia, a difficulty with acquiring fluent reading, has also been characterized by reduced short-term memory (STM) capacity, which is often operationalized with span tasks. The low performance of individuals with dyslexia (IDDs) in such tasks is commonly attributed to poor phonological memory. However, we suggest an alternative explanation based on the observation that many times the items that are used in spans tasks are high-frequency items (e.g., digit words). We suggest that IDDs do not enjoy the benefit of item frequency to the same extent as controls, and thus their performance in span tasks is especially hampered. On the contrary, learning of repeated sequences was shown to be largely independent of item frequency, and therefore this type of learning may be unimpaired in dyslexia. To test both predictions, we used the Hebb-learning paradigm. We found that IDDs’ performance is especially poor compared to controls’ when high-frequency items are used, and that their repeated series learning does not differ from that of controls. Taken together with existing literature, our findings suggest that impaired learning of repeated series is not a core characteristic of dyslexia, and that the reports on reduced STM in dyslexia may to a large extent be explained by reduced benefit of item frequency.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program (Grant Agreement No. 833694) and the Israel Science Foundation (Grant No. 1650/17), awarded to Merav Ahissar.
© 2022, The Author(s).