Poor frequency discrimination probes dyslexics with particularly impaired working memory

Karen Banai, Merav Ahissar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Substantial difficulties in performing simple auditory discriminations were previously found in some individuals with a specific reading disability but not in others. This high variability in psychoacoustic performance raises the question of whether this difficulty is related to the reading deficit. Addressing this question, we compared adult dyslexics with and without difficulty in simple auditory discriminations, using 2-tone frequency discrimination as our probe. The distribution of their frequency discrimination scores was bimodal. On this basis, we divided our participants into subgroups having either poor or adequate psychoacoustic performance. Only dyslexics with poor psychoacoustic scores had significantly impaired verbal working memory compared to their matched controls. Furthermore, and only in this subgroup, working memory scores were correlated with both cognitive abilities and reading-related tasks. Consistent with the hypothesis that in this subgroup poor working memory impedes performance in a broad range of academically related tasks, we found that the majority of dyslexics in this subgroup had more extensive academic difficulties and consequently needed special support in schools. We propose that dyslexics with poor psychoacoustic abilities form a distinct subtype of dyslexia in which the core deficit is not specific to phonological components. For these individuals, poor verbal working memory may be the main impediment to success in academic environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)328-340
Number of pages13
JournalAudiology and Neuro-Otology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Auditory processing
  • Dyslexia
  • Frequency discrimination
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sensory Systems
  • Speech and Hearing
  • Physiology
  • Otorhinolaryngology


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