Thesis Title

Visual Processing: Heart Rate Differences Between Low and High Reading Ability Adults

Date of Graduation

Spring 2004


Master of Science in Psychology



Committee Chair

D. Wayne Mitchell


Heart rate (HR) deceleration has been found to be associated with the encoding of visual information, and HR acceleration has been associated with the cognitive activity of previously learned information. This experiment examined differences in the visual processing of letters in high and low ability readers using HR as a dependent measure. Seventy-eight participants were classified as High Ability (HA) or Low Ability (LA) readers based upon comprehension scores on the Nelson Denny Reading Test. Participants were tested in one of two conditions: letter matching or perceptual processing. Participants in both conditions were tested using 1 of 2 variations of an oddball task. The letter matching (LM) condition was presented with odd-ball presentations of the same or different lowercase letter. The perceptual processing (PP) condition was presented with oddball presentations of the same or different fragmented letters. Analyses revealed consistent significant differences in HR for the reading ability conditions and a condition by stimulus presentation interaction. In the LM condition, HA readers consistently displayed HR deceleration whereas the LA readers displayed a reliable HR acceleration during the odd-ball letter identification tasks regardless if the letters were 'same' or 'different'. In the PP condition the odd-ball presentations for the 'same' letter on the oddball presentations both the HA and LA readers showed a decrease in HR whereas for the 'different' letter odd-ball presentations only the LA readers displayed a decrease in HR. The differences in direction of HR and the magnitude of HR change are argued to represent differences in the type attentional processes used in letter identification and amount of effort allocated for the specific attentional processes. The results are discussed in terms of the Lacey-Lacey intake-rejection hypothesis and Jennings limited capacity hypothesis.


heart rate, attention, visual processing, reading, comprehension

Subject Categories



© Anna M. Abbacchi