Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2015

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Biology & Biomedical Sciences (Neurosciences)

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



The process by which the initially attention-requiring task of transforming scribbles into meaningful concepts eventually becomes facile remains a central riddle of cognitive neuroscience. This body of work represents an effort to provide forward movement in answering the question of how attentional control mediates the process of reading, both by considering different stages of reading competence (development) and by seeking convergence between types of evidence (behavior and imaging).

Inspired by a study published by Balota and colleagues in 2000, the paradigm used throughout this work involves comparing a simple speeded reading task vs. a regularize ("sound out") task (Balota et al. 2000). In the first data chapter, I replicate the essential findings of the Balota et al. study in 2 young adult cohorts, confirming that stimulus characteristics, including lexicality and frequency, influence reading task performance in a manner that is modulated by top-down attentional control. I furthermore argue that the reaction time (RT) patterns are consistent with 2 distinct mechanisms by which top-down attentional control interacts with reading processes, pathway control and response checking. I then present evidence, motivated by the 2-mechanism hypothesis, that 2 sets of brain regions, including members of previously defined attentional control networks, show separable activity patterns that map nicely onto roles reflecting pathway control and response checking.

In the second data chapter, I show that 8-10 year old children, like young adults, can perform the regularize task. Unexpectedly, the early readers are faster than the experienced readers to regularize, and this speed advantage for children holds for both words and pseudowords. Because children are slower than adults across a range of cognitive tasks (e.g., Kail 1991) - with children showing particular immaturity with regard to inhibiting prepotent responses (e.g., Davidson et al. 2006) - the developmental observation is remarkable in and of itself. Complemented by a cadre of post hoc analyses, the age groups differences can also be interpreted as additional support for the 2-mechanism interaction of attention and reading.

Together, these results suggest that dissociable subcomponents of attentional control interact with subcomponents of reading processing, and that these interactions are dynamic across skill development and across task demands.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Bradley L Schlaggar

Committee Members

David Balota, Deanna Barch, Tamara Hershey, Steven Petersen, Rebecca Treiman


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