Faces and words are both associated and dissociated as evidenced by visual problems in dyslexia

Heiða María Sigurðardóttir*, Alexandra Arnardóttir, Eydís Þuríður Halldórsdóttir

*Corresponding author for this work

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Faces and words are traditionally assumed to be independently processed. Dyslexia is also traditionally thought to be a non-visual deficit. Counter to both ideas, face perception deficits in dyslexia have been reported. Others report no such deficits. We sought to resolve this discrepancy. 60 adults participated in the study (24 dyslexic, 36 typical readers). Feature-based processing and configural or global form processing of faces was measured with a face matching task. Opposite laterality effects in these tasks, dependent on left–right orientation of faces, supported that they tapped into separable visual mechanisms. Dyslexic readers tended to be poorer than typical readers at feature-based face matching while no differences were found for global form face matching. We conclude that word and face perception are associated when the latter requires the processing of visual features of a face, while processing the global form of faces apparently shares minimal—if any—resources with visual word processing. The current results indicate that visual word and face processing are both associated and dissociated—but this depends on what visual mechanisms are task-relevant. We suggest that reading deficits could stem from multiple factors, and that one such factor is a problem with feature-based processing of visual objects.

Original languageEnglish
Article number23000
Pages (from-to)23000
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 26 Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

This work was supported by The Icelandic Research Fund (Grants No. 174013-051, 195912-053) and the University of Iceland Research Fund. We wish to thank Hilma Ros Omarsdottir and Anna Sigridur Valgeirsdottir for collaboration with running participants. We also thank Ómar Ingi Jóhannesson for his assistance, and Randi Starrfelt for helpful discussions concerning the current experiments. We also want to thank Van Belle et al. (2009) for making their face stimuli available to other researchers. Finally, we want to thank Sabrina Hansmann-Roth for her idea of making audio versions of the Icelandic Vision Lab’s papers. The audio version of a preprint of an earlier version of the paper can be found at: https://notendur.hi.is/~heidasi/audio_papers/faces_and_words_v2.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).

Other keywords

  • Prosopagnosia
  • Face perception
  • Facial recognition
  • Dyslexia


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