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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Semantic, syntactic, and phonological processing of written words in adult developmental dyslexic readers: an event-related brain potential study

Jascha Rüsseler1, Petra Becker1, Sönke Johannes2 and Thomas F Münte1*

Author affiliations

1 Department of Psychology II, Neuropsychology Unit, Otto-von-Guericke University Magdeburg, Germany

2 Reha-Klinik Bellikon, Switzerland

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Citation and License

BMC Neuroscience 2007, 8:52  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-8-52

Published: 17 July 2007



The present study used event-related brain potentials to investigate semantic, phonological and syntactic processes in adult German dyslexic and normal readers in a word reading task. Pairs of German words were presented one word at a time. Subjects had to perform a semantic judgment task (house – window; are they semantically related?), a rhyme judgment task (house – mouse; do they rhyme?) and a gender judgment task (das – Haus [the – house]; is the gender correct? [in German, house has a neutral gender: das Haus]).


Normal readers responded faster compared to dyslexic readers in all three tasks. Onset latencies of the N400 component were delayed in dyslexic readers in the rhyme judgment and in the gender judgment task, but not in the semantic judgment task. N400 and the anterior negativity peak amplitudes did not differ between the two groups. However, the N400 persisted longer in the dyslexic group in the rhyme judgment and in the semantic judgment tasks.


These findings indicate that dyslexics are phonologically impaired (delayed N400 in the rhyme judgment task) but that they also have difficulties in other, non-phonological aspects of reading (longer response times, longer persistence of the N400). Specifically, semantic and syntactic integration seem to require more effort for dyslexic readers and take longer irrespective of the reading task that has to be performed.