Early use of phonological codes in deaf readers: An ERP study

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Abstract

Previous studies suggest that deaf readers use phonological information of words when it is explicitly demanded by the task itself. However, whether phonological encoding is automatic remains controversial. The present experiment examined whether adult congenitally deaf readers show evidence of automatic use of phonological information during visual word recognition. In an ERP masked priming lexical decision experiment, deaf participants responded to target words preceded by a pseudohomophone (koral – CORAL) or an orthographic control prime (toral – CORAL). Responses were faster for the pseudohomophone than for the orthographic control condition. The N250 and N400 amplitudes were reduced for the pseudohomophone when compared to the orthographic control condition. Furthermore, the magnitude of both the behavioral and the ERP pseudohomophone effects in deaf readers was similar to that of a group of well-matched hearing controls. These findings reveal that phonological encoding is available to deaf readers from the early stages of visual word recognition. Finally, the pattern of correlations of phonological priming with reading ability suggested that the amount of sub-lexical use of phonological information could be a main contributor to reading ability for hearing but not for deaf readers.

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