Relationship Between Eye-Movement Patterns, Cognitive Load, and Reading Ability in Children with Reading Difficulties

Aya Ozeri-Rotstain, Ifaat Shachaf, Rola Farah, Tzipi Horowitz-Kraus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Children with reading difficulties (RD) share challenges in executive functions (EF). Neurobiological correlates provide evidence for EF challenges during reading among these readers, but an online cognitive load detection mechanism has yet to be developed. Nevertheless, eye-movement tracking can provide online data of reading patterns (pupil dilation, fixations) and, indeed, atypical eye-movement patterns of children with RD during reading have been documented. To identify eye-movement patterns related to increased cognitive load during reading in children with RD compared to typical readers, eye movements of 8–12-year-old English-speaking children were recorded during their reading of sentences with increasing difficulty (sentences that make sense, then sentences that do not make sense) and comparing incorrect and correct responses. Children with RD demonstrated greater pupil dilation when reading sentences that make sense than when reading sentences that do not make sense and also when reading incorrectly, compared to typical readers. Increased pupil dilation in children with RD when reading sentences correctly was positively correlated with phonological awareness capabilities. Higher phonological awareness and reading abilities were related to increased pupil dilation only in children with RD during correct reading, which is related to a heavier cognitive load. Results suggest that in addition to traditional findings of altered fixation patterns in children with RD, increased pupil dilation during reading may reflect EF challenges among this population. These findings can potentially be used to adapt online written materials for children with RD based on their fixation and pupil dilation patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)491-507
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Psycholinguistic Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


  • Children
  • Executive functions
  • Eye movements
  • Reading
  • Reading difficulties


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