Modelling the Effects of Formal Literacy Training on Language Mediated Visual Attention


Recent empirical evidence suggests that language-mediated eye gaze is partly determined by level of formal literacy training. Huettig, Singh and Mishra (2011) showed that high-literate individuals' eye gaze was closely time locked to phonological overlap between a spoken target word and items presented in a visual display. In contrast, low-literate individuals' eye gaze was not related to phonological overlap, but was instead strongly influenced by semantic relationships between items. Our present study tests the hypothesis that this behavior is an emergent property of an increased ability to extract phonological structure from the speech signal, as in the case of high-literates, with low-literates more reliant on more coarse grained structure. This hypothesis was tested using a neural network model, that integrates linguistic information extracted from the speech signal with visual and semantic information within a central resource. We demonstrate that contrasts in fixation behavior similar to those observed between high and low literates emerge when models are trained on speech signals of contrasting granularity.

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