A Specific Implicit Sequence Learning Deficit as an Underlying Cause of Dyslexia? Investigating the Role of Attention in Implicit Learning Tasks

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Abstract

Objective: Recently, a general implicit sequence learning deficit was proposed as an underlying cause of dyslexia. This new hypothesis was investigated in the present study by including a number of methodological improvements, for example, the inclusion of appropriate control conditions. The second goal of the study was to explore the role of attentional functioning in implicit and explicit learning tasks. Method: In a 2 × 2 within-subjects design 4 tasks were administered in 30 dyslexic and 38 control children: an implicit and explicit serial reaction time (RT) task and an implicit and explicit contextual cueing task. Attentional functioning was also administered. The entire learning curves of all tasks were analyzed using latent growth curve modeling in order to compare performances between groups and to examine the role of attentional functioning on the learning curves. Results: The amount of implicit learning was similar for both groups. However, the dyslexic group showed slower RTs throughout the entire task. This group difference reduced and became nonsignificant after controlling for attentional functioning. Both implicit learning tasks, but none of the explicit learning tasks, were significantly affected by attentional functioning. Conclusions: Dyslexic children do not suffer from a specific implicit sequence learning deficit. The slower RTs of the dyslexic children throughout the entire implicit sequence learning process are caused by their comorbid attention problems and overall slowness. A key finding of the present study is that, in contrast to what was assumed for a long time, implicit learning relies on attentional resources, perhaps even more than explicit learning does.

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