Number reading in pure alexia — A review

Date of Original Version




Abstract or Description

It is commonly assumed that number reading can be intact in patients with pure alexia, and that this dissociation between letter/word recognition and number reading strongly constrains theories of visual word processing. A truly selective deficit in letter/word processing would strongly support the hypothesis that there is a specialized system or area dedicated to the processing of written words. To date, however, there has not been a systematic review of studies investigating number reading in pure alexia and so the status of this assumed dissociation is unclear. We review the literature on pure alexia from 1892 to 2010, and find no well-documented classical dissociation between intact number reading and impaired letter identification in a patient with pure alexia. A few studies report strong dissociations, with number reading less impaired than letter reading, but when we apply rigorous statistical criteria to evaluate these dissociations, the difference in performance across domains is not statistically significant. There is a trend in many cases of pure alexia, however, for number reading to be less affected than letter identification and word reading. We shed new light on this asymmetry by showing that, under conditions of brief exposure, normal participants are also better at identifying digits than letters. We suggest that the difference observed in some pure alexic patients may possibly reflect an amplification of this normal difference in the processing of letters and digits, and we relate this asymmetry to intrinsic differences between the two types of symbols.


Published In

Neuropsychologia, 49, 9, 2283-2298.