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Results of Experiments 1 and 2 strongly indicate that the reliable difference between the two language groups is expressed by the variability in the distribution of performances rather than by their mean. Studies with the RSVP reading speed in English participants have been unable to clearly ascertain a value for reading speed, producing speeds that differ in wpm up to a factor of 5 Rubin and Turano, ; Latham and Whitaker, ; Fine et al.

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Differences across studies may be partially explained by the diverse procedures adopted: presence, or absence, of a mask preceding and following the stream of words in the trial, presence, or absence, of context i. However, our results indicate that part of the differences in reading speed estimates obtained by different laboratories may be related to sampling biases.

English readers are much more variable; thus, sample size and selection criteria greatly affect the reliability of the mean in defining the group speed especially for the small sample sizes typical of these studies. Our results indicate that differences in speed across labs may be in part reconciled in light of the large variability shown by the English population.


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Also results with vRTs Experiment 3 point to the presence of greater differences in variability between English and Italian observers than in terms of mean performances. How can these differences be accommodated? One possible interpretation is that, by minimizing the role of memory, pronunciation time and eye movements, performance in the RSVP paradigm closely captures the efficiency in decoding; so, individual differences are directly reflected in differential ranges, with the English sample containing both the slowest and fastest individuals.

In the case of RT measures, the available literature indicates a more complex relationship between performance and decoding. There is a consensus that RT measures contain both decisional and non-decisional components although there are different approaches to separate them e. Within the DEM to which we refer here, RTs are a compound of a sensory-motor compartment and of a decisional compartment. In this perspective, it is not surprising that individual differences are not well captured by variations in the mean as this expresses both decisional and non-decisional components of the response.

To provide a general frame for this distinction consider that, based on DEM, in the present experimental conditions the sensory-motor and cognitive compartments each account for about half of the processing time in the Italian sample. Thus, ms was the estimate for the former compartment; subtracting this value from the overall mean ms , we obtain an estimate of ms for the cognitive compartment.

Note that the two compartments were not distinguishable among English observers see further comments below.

This pattern is consistent with previous observations on both reading Yap et al. So, within this reasoning, the outcome of the three experiments can be reconciled by stating that English observers showed greater individual differences than Italian observers in the parameter which, in each paradigm, is sensitive to variations in task difficulty lexical status in our case , i. Further comments will be made on this point when commenting the results within the DEM model. Is there a processing speed difference in reading in regular and irregular orthographies once most cognitive variables are taken into account to match stimuli across languages?

Experiment 2, but not Experiments 1 and 3, showed that English readers were faster than Italians. However, in all three experiments the English observers were more variable although on different critical parameters. English and Italian differ in the degree of consistency in the mappings of letters onto sounds as well as in the complexity of the syllabic structure.

On the other hand, in English, the embedding of grapheme-phoneme correspondences in consonant clusters makes it more difficult to acquire these correspondences.

In fact, Seymour et al. Moreover, it has been suggested that the preferred grain size unit i. Ziegler et al. Results showed that reading 5- and 6- letter words, the German participants were about 50 ms slower than the English sample. Conversely, Paulesu et al. Frith et al. Interestingly, they found that on average English children read at a slower speed and less accurately than German children, also showing a larger lexical effect. The results of the present experiments strongly indicate that English readers are more variable, and that the group mean per se fails to capture the phenomenon of the differences across languages.

Thus, it is possible that individuals read a language with opaque orthography and complex syllabic structure adopting different processing strategies each contributing to reading with differential efficiency. One of the aims of this study was to investigate the relationship between the general speed factor and the efficiency of the orthographic decoding on vRTs. Indeed, larger effects of the experimental manipulations are expected in the case of differences in overall processing time across individuals i.

In the absence of a general speed difference in vRTs Experiment 3 no over-additive group interactions are expected. Nonetheless, some data obtained by our research group on English and Italian children in reading single words and pseudo-words may be relevant on this issue Marinelli et al. We found that, contrary to the prediction of a larger RT variability in slower individuals Faust et al. Large inter-individual differences have also been found in other studies with English children, both when the English readers were faster Ellis and Hooper, ; Ellis et al.

Taken together the results of the three experiments show that large variability is not associated with slower speed in the case of the English sample. This highlights the importance of examining the shape of the distributions to understand the underlying phenomenon. One source of individual difference could arise from readers emphasizing different strategies or types of information during reading.

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Therefore, we feel that the possibility that the lexical strategy of reading is more pronounced in the English may require further testing before such hypothesis can be confidently rejected. The DEM assigns the difference between individuals to the amount of cognitive processing required by the task predicting the relationship between mean and SD Myerson et al.

There is a large body of literature that builds on the relationship between mean RTs and SDs to account for individual differences across slow and fast groups e. These studies investigate different cognitive processes, ranging from recognition to counting Cerella et al. The relationship between the standard deviation and the mean of the RT distribution highlights a general rule Wagenmakers and Brown, that must be taken into account when looking for selective effects Hale and Jansen, ; Faust et al.

Indeed, most models of reading are based on the selective effects of lexical variables e. Our results indicate that this relationship does not hold for reading speed in English. Note that, in a counting task, English participants show the expected relationship Logan, but, as shown here, this is not the case for reading. Therefore, this makes a special case for English individuals and the reading task. It is difficult to understand why the general linear law between means and standard deviations does not hold in this particular instance.

Wagenmakers and Brown identify three boundary conditions under which no linear relationship between means and standard deviations is expected, i. An example of a mixture is when a task e. Reading models can be seen in this perspective. Thus, at least to some extent, the dual route model Coltheart et al.

However, it seems extremely unlikely that English proficient adults are in a moment of transition between the two routes if anything, this interpretation could apply more easily to Italian readers who supposedly develop their lexicon more slowly. The third boundary condition also does not seem to apply to the present data; it seems unlikely that reading is carried out through serial and exhaustive processing.

At any rate, were this the case, one would expect means to vary linearly as a function of variances, rather than SDs Wagenmakers and Brown, However, the results for English readers shown in Figure 4 remained the same when we used variances instead of standard deviations, suggesting, as expected, that failure for linearity between means and SDs is not related to the task involving a serial and exhaustive processing.

Evaluating the first boundary condition i. In general, models do not predict a relationship between means and standard deviations for the non-decisional component of the response. Variations among individuals and tasks certainly cannot be simply viewed as due to differences in sensory processing and motor preparation processes. However, in evaluating this boundary condition, it should also be considered that any systematic bias in the modulation of the response such as response conservativeness would be incompatible with the linear law Wagenmakers et al. In this perspective one may consider the time criterion account for naming speed advanced by Lupker and colleagues in a number of studies carried out on English speaking individuals e.

According to this hypothesis, participants set a point in time at which they try to respond to all stimuli in a given block.

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When easy and hard stimuli are mixed, the placement of the time criterion is intermediate compared with that in pure blocks of easy and hard stimuli; thus, responses to easy stimuli slow down and responses to hard stimuli speed up thus altering the relationship between speed of response and task difficulty which is at the base of the linear law.

Notably, recent evidence Paizi et al. Thus, unlike what is typically reported in English-speaking individuals, word frequency effects are independent of list context manipulations Paizi et al. So, one possibility is that the atypical pattern in the relationship between means and standard deviations is due to the fact that English readers more so than readers of a regular orthography refer to a time criterion when they try to read under speeded time conditions.

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Presumably, these values in part reflect the degree of noise in the data whether arising from decisional or non-decisional components of the response. If we assume that only English observers superimpose a time criterion on their response it becomes reasonable to imagine an increase in their individual intra-trial variability independent of mean changes. Indeed, adopting a time criterion modifies the pattern of individual response in a way which, on the one hand, does not appreciably modify mean performance and, on the other, is inherently symmetrical and, as such, at least compatible with a Gaussian distribution.

Overall, we propose that the increase in intra-individual variability shown by English observers might be interpreted as due to a combination of two factors, intra-trial noise and reference to a time criterion for setting up the response. Only the former factor would be active in the case of individuals reading a very regular orthography, such as Italian. Clearly, further ad hoc research designs are needed to fully evaluate this interpretation.

Most universal models of reading and reading acquisition are based on mean vRTs of English participants as a function of lexical manipulations e. The current results question the appropriateness of building a universal reading model just on the very language group who in reading performance does not conform to the general predictions of models of RT performance. The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Baayen, R. Balota, D. Word frequency, repetition, and lexicality effects in word recognition tasks: beyond measures of central tendency. Barca, L.