Pure alexia and covert reading: Evidence from Stroop tasks
Date of Original Version
Abstract or Description
Patients with pure alexia (also referred to as letter-by-letter readers) show a marked word-length effect when naming visually presented words, evidenced by a monotonic increase in response time (or decrease in accuracy) as a function of the number of letters in the string. Interestingly, despite the difficulty in overtly reporting the identity of some words, many patients exhibit fast and above-chance access to lexical and/or semantic information for the same words. To explore the extent of this covert reading, we examined the degree of interference afforded by the inconsistent (word identity and colour label do not match) versus neutral condition in a Stroop task in a pure alexic patient, EL. EL shows evidence of covert reading on a semantic categorisation task and a lexical decision task. She also demonstrates covert reading by exhibiting Stroop interference of the same magnitude as a matched control subject, when naming the colour of the ink in which a word is printed. When the word shares some but not all letters with the colour name (BLOW instead of BLUE), neither subject shows interference. In contrast with the control subject, EL does not show Stroop interference when various orthographic changes (degraded visual input, cursive font) or phonological or semantic changes are made to the word. These findings indicate that although some implicit processing of words may be possible, this processing is rather rudimentary. Not surprising, this implicit activation may be insufficient to support overt word identification. We explain these findings in the context of a single, integrated account of pure alexia.
Cognitive Neuropsychology, 21, 2-4, 443-458.