When taking the first steps towards learning to read, one should excel in two primary kinds of processes: the lexical processes, which will be further discussed in this presentation, and comprehension processes.
The Lexical Process
When trying to identify words and letters and then retrieve them back from our memory, which is what lexical process is all about, the eye-movement fixations provide a great way for further insight. According to Pollastek and Rayner (1989), our eyes make rapid movements, instead of going along each line and page. We could say that our eyes take quick snapshots of each content we read and stay longer when coming across a longer word, rather than a short one. Interestingly, when our eyes stumble upon a word that is not vaguely used, or is unknown, it seems that they fixate for much longer than with other, familiar, words.
The same occurs to the last words of sentences. According to Carpenter and Just (1981), and Warren et al (2009), this is called sentence wrap up time (p.388). However, unlike what might be believed, our eyes do not fixate on each and every word, but an overall 80% of what we read, meaning the words that usually carry the core meaning of the text, such as verbs and nouns. When our eyes fixate at a point in the text we read, they read about 4 characters to the left of the fixation point, including numbers, spaces, letters, and punctuation marks; and about 3-4 times as many characters to the right, while they leave a space of about up to 9 characters between each fixation. However, when students speed-reads, so to get the gist of a text, it is highly likely that they leave more content un-fixated, as they tend to make shorter fixations and at less frequently than when they read in order to achieve a deeper understanding of the text they process. Homa (1983) believes that the quicker individuals read, the less they comprehend (p.388).
- The Interactive-Activation Model
When we identify a word, we automatically try to find its meaning from our memory’s data bank. This is a procedure called lexical access. It is believed that lexical access is an interactive process, where we process all different types of information, such as the letters and the words that the letter form, among others. According to investigators McClelland et al (2009), and Rumelhart and McClelland (1981, 1982), lexical elements are activated in multiple levels, namely the feature level, the letter level, and the word level, with interactive processes between each level, before we achieve word recognition (p.388-9). Their model is called interactive-activation model, based on which, the information gained from each level is processed separately in our brain and memory. The information is passed from one level to another with a duo-directional way, first starting from the bottom and moving up, with sensory data, before it eventually gets to higher cognitive processing levels, and then from the top to bottom, where high-level cognition tries to find its way into the experiences of former knowledge we have in regards the text we are reading. In other words, we do not only identify words using the features we see or hear, but also use the stored knowledge upon the words we read, so to identify letters. This is how the term “interactive” is justified in the aforementioned model (p.389).
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- Neuropsychological Theories
The model introduced by Rumelhart and McClelland has some alternatives, by other theorists, like Harley (2008) and Petersen et al (1988), who have focused on cerebral processing, so to explain the word recognition process. Studies on cerebral processing have shown that the brain activates different regions upon the different stimuli it receives for word processing. For example, a cerebral region is activated when we read a word, hence visually processing the word, while semantic analysis of words is performed after another region is activated. He same applies when words are spoken, rather than read (p.390). In order to further process the theories mentioned before, new technologies, including PET (Position Emission Tomography), and fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) are used.
- Computer-Simulated Word Processing Models
Like in the neuropsychology models, the computer-simulated word processing models try to foretell a word-superiority effect. In the word-superiority effect, the letter seems to have a greater value when they form words, rather than when isolated letter or letters combined with other letters that make no particular meaning. So, in words we know the meaning of, reading is done far more easily than when reading letters that make no sense to us. This effect was first investigated by Reicher (1969) and Wheeler (1970), which is why it was named after them.
In order to observe the word-superiority effect, researchers used the lexical-decision task, which is a framework of ideas, according to which, a string of letters is shown in an individual for a limited time, and then the string is covered with a visual-mask, so to eliminate the visual stimuli given to iconic memory. Then, the individual is asked whether the string of letters formerly presented to them form words.
The standard lexical-decision task is enhanced, though, in order to understand further how we normally process letters. For that reason, participants are presented with either a full word, or just a letter, both followed by a visual mask. They are then given 2 letters and are asked to identify the letter they have just seen. Findings have shown that participants are more likely to choose the correct word, if they had seen it as part of a word, rather than isolated. On the contrary, the even letters of pseudowords that are pronounceable, are better identified, compared to isolated letters. According to Grainger et al (2003), this is not the case when a string of words cannot be pronounced as words (p.390).
Moreover, the sentence-superiority effect is another word-recognition model, primarily introduced by Cattell (1886), according to which people tend to spend twice as much time to read unrelated words, compared to words that are parts of a sentence, hence make sense (p.390). This model has numerous applications. For example, if a person sees a word in a degrading form standing alone, it would be much more difficult to recognize that word, rather than having to process this word as part of a sentence context. In other words, when a reader is provided with a stimulus that gives meaning to a sentence, perception is made easy.
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All in all, we see that context effects apply to both the conscious, where people have a rather active control as to how to process a context so to make sense, identify the meaning of the words we read, and achieve perception, and the preconscious of an individual, where automated activities take control of the word processing process (p.391-2). Furthermore, the lexical decisions we make are quicker when we are presented with associated pairs (see “school”, “teacher”), rather than unassociated pairs, where our decisions are significantly slowed down. According to Meyer and Becker (1976), the exact same thing also occurs when we are called to read pairs that involve either non-words, or a word and a non-word (p.392).
Importance of Lexical Access Speed and Relation to Intelligence
The lexical-access speed is the speed at which we can retrieve any stored information from our memory, considering words, and according to Posner and Mitchel (1967), it is measurable (p.392). The reaction time, as well as the letter matching time, are two of the proposed ways to measure the lexical-access speed. Participants are presented with pairs of letters and are called to identify whether any of the pairs make a match with a name. For example, the pair “A a” make a match in name as letters of the alphabet, while a pair such as “A b” do not. Moreover, participants are also asked to identify the physical match of pairs (e.g. “AB” versus “Ab”). The difference between the speed used in name-matching, and the speed in physical-matching then becomes the lexical-access speed. In other words, the lexical-access speed is what is left from subtracting the physical-matching time from the name-matching time. Hunt (1978) has concluded that it takes longer for students with lower verbal ability to gain access to lexical information, as opposed to students with higher verbal ability; hence, verbal ability is closely related to lexical access.