Action-packed videogames might help dyslexic adults learn to read, according to a study published today.
Dyslexia is a reading disability that occurs when the brain does not properly recognise and process certain symbols. It is estimated to affect some 10% of the Australian population.
The study, conducted by Vanessa Harrar at the University of Oxford and colleagues was published in Current Biology. A group of 17 dyslexic adults watched a screen, with loudspeakers on either side, and were asked to press a button as soon as they saw a dim flash, heard a sound or experienced both flash and sound together.
The study found that reaction times were slower when dyslexic participants shifted attention from visual to auditory cues. In the paper, Dr Harrar suggests that
dyslexics might learn audio-visual phonological associations faster if they first hear the sound and then see the corresponding letter/word.
Nicholas Badcock, a postdoctoral researcher at Macquarie University, said the findings of the study are potentially exciting. “To a lot of people, it makes sense that shifting attention between visual and auditory information is important for reading. Slower shifting would result in less fluent reading which in turn may affect comprehension as the meanings of the words would have to be retained in working memory for longer.”
Dr Harrar suggests the findings of the study should be considered for dyslexia training programs, which traditionally involve seeing letters and words first and then hearing their sounds.
Dr Harrar’s team also propose action videogames — which involve constantly shifting focus — might help train dyslexic people to shift attention quickly between visual and auditory stimuli.
Daniel Johnson, senior lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology, said previous research has also shown that videogame players demonstrate a better ability to process simultaneous information in different forms.
But Anne Castles, also from Macquarie University, said we are a long way from being able to apply the study’s finding in a training context: “We do not yet know what underlies this effect, how it relates to reading acquisition, and indeed whether it is a cause or consequence of reading difficulties. It is also important to bear in mind that the sample size is small and that individuals with dyslexia are a diverse group."
Dr Badcock said the sample size of Dr Harrar’s study was too small to reliably demonstrate a difference between the control group and the dyslexic group: “Until clearer evidence is available, it would be difficult to justify including attentional shifting in a training program.”
A 2013 study also found that dyslexic children showed significant improvements in attention and reading ability when trained on action videogames. This study also involved small sample size of studied groups.
“The relationship between Harrar and colleagues' work and videogames needs to be demonstrated empirically before we send people with reading difficulties off to play videogames, as fun as that might be for the individuals involved,” Dr Badcock said.