When phonology fails: Orthographic neighbourhood effects in dyslexia

Michal Lavidor, Rhona Johnston, Margaret J. Snowling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Both cerebral hemispheres contain phonological, orthographic and semantic representations of words, however there are between-hemisphere differences in the relative engagement and specialization of the different representations. Taking orthographic processing for example, previous studies suggest that orthographic neighbourhood size (N) has facilitatory effects in the right but not the left hemispheres. To pursue the nature of this asymmetric N effect, in particular whether there are individual differences in such specialisation, we examined N in a case of developmental dyslexia, FM. We first describe the nature of his difficulties, which are mainly severe phonological deficits. Employing the divided visual field paradigm with FM revealed a greater sensitivity in the right than in the left hemisphere to orthographic variables, with a significant inhibitory N effect in the left, but not right hemisphere. Such inhibition, to a lesser degree, was found among a group of adults with dyslexia but not among age-matched normal readers. We argue that enhanced sensitivity to orthographic cues is developed in some cases of dyslexia when a normal, phonology-based left hemisphere word recognition processing is not achieved. The interpretation presented here is cast in terms of differences between people with dyslexia and typical readers that originate in the atypical way in which orthographic representations are initially set up.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)318-329
Number of pages12
JournalBrain and Language
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2006
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Many thanks to FM who endured all the tests patiently. We wish to thank Yvonne Griffiths for her help in testing FM. This study was supported by the European Commission (RTN:LAB, MRTN-CT-2004-512141).


  • Development
  • Left hemisphere
  • Orthographic representations
  • Right hemisphere
  • Semantic representations
  • Visual fields


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