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    EdUHK Research on Bidirectional Relations of Word Reading to Timed Visual Tasks in Chinese

    Most research on the association between visual skills and reading has focused on how visual skills facilitate reading. But learning to read Chinese involves both visual skills and mapping between print and sound. It is not clear how their association develops in later stages. This study investigated the association of timed visual processing tasks varying in levels of phonological processing with word reading.

    Dr Melody Pan Jinger, Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychology, The Education University of Hong Kong, and her research team included in their study (1) Cross Out, a speeded task that involves visual processing of nonalphanumeric stimuli; (2) Visual Matching, a speeded task which involves visual processing of numeric stimuli; and (3) numeric Rapid Automatised Naming, a speeded task which requires visual processing and oral output. Stimuli used in the Cross Out task are not verbally codable, whereas those used in the Visual Matching and Rapid Automatised Naming tasks are. Visual Matching does not require verbal output, while Rapid Automatised Naming does. These differences allowed us to investigate how phonological processing modulates the relationship between speeded visual processing and word reading.

    The study tested 293 Chinese children on nonverbal IQ at age 4, phonological and morphological awareness at age 5, Cross Out and Visual Matching at ages 6 to 8, and Rapid Automatised Naming and Character Recognition at ages 5 to 9 to measure their reading accuracy.

    The results found that children’s Character Recognition at ages 6 and 7 predicted Cross Out at ages 7 and 8. There was a cross-lagged relationship between Character Recognition and Visual Matching from ages 6 to 7, but Character Recognition at age 7 significantly predicted Visual Matching from age 7 to 8. Rapid Automatised Naming and Character Recognition predicted each other from ages 5 to 6, but only Rapid Automatised Naming predicted subsequent Character Recognition from ages 6 to 9.

    Learning to read Chinese requires substantial visual processing. However, the findings of the study also highlighted the importance of reading skill for the development of children’s visual skills, irrespective of the type of visual stimuli.

    The results extended previous findings by showing that visual processing can be improved by learning to read. It also suggested that the reciprocal relationship between visual processing and reading depends on the age and the type of stimuli of the visual processing task.

    The findings reflected the development of reading Chinese. In the logographic stage, children tend to recognise characters based mostly on their visual features. Recognising Chinese characters, which are far more complex than the alphabet, helps children develop their visual skills. But in the cipher phase, children need to rely on decoding. Though Chinese is an opaque script, children still rely on phonological information in the early years of primary school. The association between visual codes and phonological codes, as reflected in Rapid Automatised Naming and in later ages in the Visual Matching task, are important for Chinese children in learning to read.

    The study concluded that the relationship between Chinese character recognition and tasks involving speeded visual processing differ largely depending on age and whether alphanumeric stimuli and phonological processing are involved. Learning to read Chinese appears to facilitate early two-dimensional, geometric, pure (non-print-related) visual processing, but visual processing appears to promote subsequent reading of Chinese only when it involves alphanumeric print. This pattern is likely attributable in part to the development and specialisation of print recognition over time and partly to the involvement of explicit phonological coding in the process.

    The study was conducted together with Dr Cui Xin and Professor Shu Hua from Beijing Normal University, and Professor Catherine McBride from The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

    To learn more about the study, please click here.