Adaptive Plasticity under Adverse Listening Conditions is Disrupted in Developmental Dyslexia

Yafit Gabay, Lori L. Holt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Acoustic distortions to the speech signal impair spoken language recognition, but healthy listeners exhibit adaptive plasticity consistent with rapid adjustments in how the distorted speech input maps to speech representations, perhaps through engagement of supervised error-driven learning. This puts adaptive plasticity in speech perception in an interesting position with regard to developmental dyslexia inasmuch as dyslexia impacts speech processing and may involve dysfunction in neurobiological systems hypothesized to be involved in adaptive plasticity. Method: Here, we examined typical young adult listeners (N = 17), and those with dyslexia (N = 16), as they reported the identity of native-language monosyllabic spoken words to which signal processing had been applied to create a systematic acoustic distortion. During training, all participants experienced incremental signal distortion increases to mildly distorted speech along with orthographic and auditory feedback indicating word identity following response across a brief, 250-Trial training block. During pretest and posttest phases, no feedback was provided to participants. Results: Word recognition across severely distorted speech was poor at pretest and equivalent across groups. Training led to improved word recognition for the most severely distorted speech at posttest, with evidence that adaptive plasticity generalized to support recognition of new tokens not previously experienced under distortion. However, training-related recognition gains for listeners with dyslexia were significantly less robust than for control listeners. Conclusions: Less efficient adaptive plasticity to speech distortions may impact the ability of individuals with dyslexia to deal with variability arising from sources like acoustic noise and foreign-Accented speech.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-22
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of the International Neuropsychological Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (R01DC004674) to LLH and by Binational Scientific Foundation (2015227) and the National Science Foundation-Binational Scientific Foundation (2016867) grants to LLH and YG. Thanks to Christi Gomez for stimulus creation and support in testing human participants.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © INS. Published by Cambridge University Press, 2020.


  • Adaptive plasticity
  • Developmental dyslexia
  • Procedural learning
  • Speech recognition
  • Supervised learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (all)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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