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Emergence of representations through repeated training on pronouncing novel letter combinations leads to efficient reading

Takashima, A., Hulzink, I., Wagensveld, B., & Verhoeven, L. (2016). Emergence of representations through repeated training on pronouncing novel letter combinations leads to efficient reading. Neuropsychologia, 89, 14-30. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2016.05.014.
Printed text can be decoded by utilizing different processing routes depending on the familiarity of the script. A predominant use of word-level decoding strategies can be expected in the case of a familiar script, and an almost exclusive use of letter-level decoding strategies for unfamiliar scripts. Behavioural studies have revealed that frequently occurring words are read more efficiently, suggesting that these words are read in a more holistic way at the word-level, than infrequent and unfamiliar words. To test whether repeated exposure to specific letter combinations leads to holistic reading, we monitored both behavioural and neural responses during novel script decoding and examined changes related to repeated exposure. We trained a group of Dutch university students to decode pseudowords written in an unfamiliar script, i.e., Korean Hangul characters. We compared behavioural and neural responses to pronouncing trained versus untrained two-character pseudowords (equivalent to two-syllable pseudowords). We tested once shortly after the initial training and again after a four days' delay that included another training session. We found that trained pseudowords were pronounced faster and more accurately than novel combinations of radicals (equivalent to letters). Imaging data revealed that pronunciation of trained pseudowords engaged the posterior temporo-parietal region, and engagement of this network was predictive of reading efficiency a month later. The results imply that repeated exposure to specific combinations of graphemes can lead to emergence of holistic representations that result in efficient reading. Furthermore, inter-individual differences revealed that good learners retained efficiency more than bad learners one month later

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