Poor literacy is a critical problem in the deaf population and represents a significant public health concern because low literacy is associated with many negative social and economic outcomes (e.g., poor employment opportunities, limited access to health care information, reduced civic engagement). This project aims to identify the neurocognitive factors that underlie successful comprehension of written language for adults who are prelingually and profoundly deaf and who use American Sign Language as a primary means of communication. Psycholinguistic paradigms (e.g., visual masked priming) and electrophysiological (event-related potential - ERP) measures will be used - for the first time - t track the time course of the neural processes involved in the visual processing of words by skilled deaf readers (10th grade - college level readers), their hearing peers (matched for reading ability), and less-skilled deaf readers (those reading at or below the 9th grade level). The experiments are designed to reveal both commonalities and differences in the temporal neural dynamics of reading for individuals who differ in hearing status and literacy level. An extensive battery of assessment tests (evaluating reading, spoken language, sign language, and cognitive abilities) provides predictor variables for individual difference and group analyses.
A second aim of this project is to identify the neural associations between orthographic, fingerspelled, and sign representations in these bilingual deaf readers. Fingerspelling constitutes a secondary orthographic code for English, and lexical-semantic knowledge of ASL may strengthen English vocabulary through cross-language co-activation. The proposed experiments are set within the Bimodal Interactive Activation Model (BIAM) of word processing, a theoretical framework that provides a neuro-computational account of the temporal dynamics of the component processes in visual word comprehension that occur during reading. Overall, the project aims to characterize the impact of reduced phonological input, literacy skill, and changes in visual attention that accompanies deafness on the temporal dynamics of reading. The results will advance our understanding of the neuroplasticity of the reading system and will be the key to creating targeted remediation programs for deaf adults with poor reading ability.

Public Health Relevance

We live in a society for which reading skill is critical to health, economic and academic success, and public engagement. However, for individuals who are born deaf, reading presents a significant challenge because they cannot hear the language represented by print. This project aims to discover the neurocognitive factors that impede or facilitate literacy outcomes for deaf people and thereby identify possibly alternative pathways to reading success.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
Research Project (R01)
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Language and Communication Study Section (LCOM)
Program Officer
Cooper, Judith
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San Diego State University
Other Health Professions
Sch Allied Health Professions
San Diego
United States
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Giustolisi, Beatrice; Emmorey, Karen (2018) Visual Statistical Learning With Stimuli Presented Sequentially Across Space and Time in Deaf and Hearing Adults. Cogn Sci 42:3177-3190
Glezer, Laurie S; Weisberg, Jill; O'Grady Farnady, Cindy et al. (2018) Orthographic and phonological selectivity across the reading system in deaf skilled readers. Neuropsychologia 117:500-512
Emmorey, Karen; Midgley, Katherine J; Kohen, Casey B et al. (2017) The N170 ERP component differs in laterality, distribution, and association with continuous reading measures for deaf and hearing readers. Neuropsychologia 106:298-309
Meade, Gabriela; Midgley, Katherine J; Sevcikova Sehyr, Zed et al. (2017) Implicit co-activation of American Sign Language in deaf readers: An ERP study. Brain Lang 170:50-61