Reading disability and perceptual flexibility



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The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between reading speed and perceptual organization. Earlier studies which have attempted to find such a relationship have generally concluded that perception was not a major factor in reading deficiency. For the most part these earlier studies have suffered from three shortcomings: 1) they have viewed perception as a unitary process; 2) they have generally used children at various age levels without controlling for developmental variables; and 3) they have focused on a search for some more or less specific factor(s) thought to be responsible for reading impairment. Most of these studies have used perceptual tasks which required either the completion of an incomplete figure or the matching of a standard figure with one or more comparison figures. The present study postulated the existence of at least two major levels of perceptual organization, and suggested that the tests described above measure only one of these, generally identified in the literature as speed of closure. Speed of closure relates to the organization of a configuration in the absence of some of the relevant cues, while the other perceptual level -- flexibility of closure -- describes the process of organizing a configuration which appears in a field of conflicting and/or distracting stimuli. It was suggested that the second, more complex, level of perceptual organization is involved in rapid organization of printed graphemes on a page. On the basis of scores on a speed of reading test, two groups of subjects were selected from a population consisting of 236 introductory psychology students. Group I, labeled fast readers, consisted of 2^ subjects who had scored one standard deviation or more above the mean of the population. Group II, labeled slow readers, consisted of hl subjects who had scored 3/4 standard deviation or more below the mean. The subjects took a battery of paper-and-pencil and individually administered tests which had been identified in previous studies as measures of speed of closure, flexibility of closure, and spatial orientation. A test of visual skills was also administered. It was predicted that the two groups would differ significantly in their performance on the tests of flexibility of closure, but would not differ on the tests of speed of closure. As predicted, no significant differences were found in the performance of the two groups on the speed of closure tests. However, again as predicted, the fast readers scored significantly higher on three of the flexibility of closure measures. The data also indicated that the fast readers performed better on the remaining flexibility measure and had a higher reversal rate for ambiguous figures. These latter differences failed to reach statistical significance. A correlational analysis of the data lent considerable support to the notion of two more or less independent levels of perceptual organization. These levels appeared to operate completely independently for the slow readers, but were somewhat interrelated for the fast reader group. Because of the apparent heterogeneity in the performance of the slow readers, and the more homogeneous pattern of perceptual organization emerging from the performance of the fast readers, it was suggested that future studies focus on the abilities of the fast readers instead of attempting to identify the impairments of slow readers.



Reading disability., Perceptual learning.