Morpheme position coding in reading development as explored with a letter search task


Journal of Cognition


February, 2021


Jana Hasenaecker, Maria Ktori and Davide Crepaldi

Suffixes have been shown to be recognized as units in visual word recognition and their identification has been argued to be position-specific in skilled adult readers, that is, in lexical decision tasks they are automatically identified at word endings, where they typically occur, but not at word beginnings. The present study set out to investigate whether position-specific coding can be detected with a letter search task and whether children already code suffixes as units in a position-specific fashion. A pre-registered experiment was conducted in Italian in which 3rd-graders, 5th-graders, and adults had to detect a target letter that was either contained in the suffix of a pseudoword (e.g., S in flagish vs. flagosh) or in a non-suffix control (e.g., S in flagish vs.flagosh). To additionally investigate sensitivity to suffix position, letters also had to be detected in suffixes and non-suffixes placed in reversed position, that is in the beginning of pseudowords (e.g., S in ishflag vs. oshflag). Results indicated position-specific processing differences between suffixes and non-suffix endings that develop throughout reading development. However, some effects were weak and only partially in line with the hypotheses. Therefore, a second experiment was conducted. The effects of position-specific suffix identification could not be replicated. A combined analysis additionally using a Bayesian approach suggest no processing differences between suffix and non-suffix endings in our task. We discuss possible interpretations and the possibility of letter search being unsuited to investigate small processing differences as well as the lesson psycholinguistics can learn from this example of failed self-replication.

The paper is freely accessible here. A pre-print and all data and scripts related to this project are available here.