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Early access to abstract representations in developing readers: evidence from masked priming


Address for correspondence: Manuel Perea, Departamento de Metodología, Facultad de Psicología, Av. Blasco Ibáñez, 21, 46010-Valencia, Spain; e-mail:


A commonly shared assumption in the field of visual-word recognition is that retinotopic representations are rapidly converted into abstract representations. Here we examine the role of visual form vs. abstract representations during the early stages of word processing – as measured by masked priming – in young children (3rd and 6th Graders) and adult readers. To maximize the chances of detecting an effect of visual form, we employed a language with a very intricate orthography, Arabic. If visual form plays a role in the early stages of processing, greater benefit would be expected from related primes that have the same visual form (in terms of the ligation pattern between a word's letters) as the target word (e.g.image_n/desc12052-gra-0001.pngimage [ktz b–ktA b] – note that the three initial letters are connected in prime and target) than for those that do not (image_n/desc12052-gra-0003.pngimage_n/desc12052-gra-0004.png [ktxb–ktA b]). Results showed that the magnitude of priming effect relative to an unrelated condition (e.g. image_n/desc12052-gra-0005.pngimage_n/desc12052-gra-0006.png) was remarkably similar for both types of prime. Thus, despite the visual complexity of Arabic orthography, there is fast access to the abstract letter representations not only in adult readers by also in developing readers.