Could action video games help people with dyslexia learn to read?

In addition to their trouble with reading, people with dyslexia also have greater difficulty than typical readers do when it comes to managing competing sensory cues, according to a study reported February 13 in Current Biology. The findings suggest that action video games might improve literacy skills in those with dyslexia, which represent five to ten percent of the population.

"Imagine you are having a conversation with someone when suddenly you hear your name uttered behind you," says Vanessa Harrar of the University of Oxford. "Your attention shifts from the person you are talking to—the visual—to the sound behind you. This is an example of a cross-sensory shift of attention. We found that shifting attention from visual to auditory stimuli is particularly difficult for people who have compared to good readers."

In fact, researchers already knew that people with dyslexia had some challenges with in addition to their visual impairments. New evidence had also begun to link multisensory integration and dyslexia to the same parts of the brain. That evidence, together with Harrar's own personal challenges with reading and writing, prompted her and her colleagues to conduct one of the first investigations of how people with dyslexia process multisensory stimuli.

Participants in the study were asked to push a button as quickly as possible when they heard a sound, saw a dim flash, or experienced both together. The speed with which they pressed the buttons was recorded and analyzed. While everyone was fastest when the same type of stimuli repeated itself, the data showed that people with dyslexia were particularly slow at pressing the button when a sound-only trial followed a visual-only trial. In other words, they showed "sluggish attention shifting," particularly when asked to shift their attention from a flash of light to a sound.

While the researchers say further study is needed, they suggest based on the findings that dyslexia training programs should take this asymmetry into account.

"We think that people with dyslexia might learn associations between letters and their sounds faster if they first hear the sound and then see the corresponding letter or word," Harrar says. Of course, traditional approaches to reading, in which letters are first seen and then heard, do just the opposite.

Harrar's team goes on to propose a unique, nonverbal approach to improve reading and writing with action video games. "We propose that training people with dyslexia to shift attention quickly from visual to auditory stimuli and back—such as with a , where attention is constantly shifting focus—might also improve literacy. Action video games have been shown to improve multitasking skills and might also be beneficial in improving the speed with which people with dyslexia shift from one task, or sense, to another."

More information: Current Biology, Harrar et al.: "Multisensory integration and attention in developmental dyslexia." dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2014.01.029

Related Stories

Action video games boost reading skills, study finds

Feb 28, 2013

Much to the chagrin of parents who think their kids should spend less time playing video games and more time studying, time spent playing action video games can actually make dyslexic children read better. ...

E-readers more effective than paper for dyslexic readers

Sep 18, 2013

As e-readers grow in popularity as convenient alternatives to traditional books, researchers at the Smithsonian have found that convenience may not be their only benefit. The team discovered that when e-readers ...

Tackling dyslexia before kids learn to read

Apr 05, 2012

For children with dyslexia, the trouble begins even before they start reading and for reasons that don't necessarily reflect other language skills. That's according to a report published online on April 5 in Current Biology, that f ...

Recommended for you

Study links enzyme to autistic behaviors

20 hours ago

Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is a genetic disorder that causes obsessive-compulsive and repetitive behaviors, and other behaviors on the autistic spectrum, as well as cognitive deficits. It is the most common ...

A new cause of mental disease?

Jul 23, 2014

Astrocytes, the cells that make the background of the brain and support neurons, might be behind mental disorders such as depression and schizophrenia, according to new research by a Portuguese team from ...

Molecular basis of age-related memory loss explained

Jul 22, 2014

From telephone numbers to foreign vocabulary, our brains hold a seemingly endless supply of information. However, as we are getting older, our ability to learn and remember new things declines. A team of ...

The neurochemistry of addiction

Jul 22, 2014

We've all heard the term "addictive personality," and many of us know individuals who are consistently more likely to take the extra drink or pill that puts them over the edge. But the specific balance of ...

User comments