The disadvantages of adult illiteracy in verbal memory tasks

The disadvantages of adult illiteracy in verbal memory tasks

First Author: ROSANGELA GABRIEL -- UNIVERSIDADE DE SANTA CRUZ DO SUL
Additional authors/chairs: 
Régine Kolinsky; Marilane Maria Gregory; Kadine Saraiva de Carvalho; José Morais
Keywords: Adult Literacy, Verbal Memory, mental lexicon, Nonword Repetition
Abstract / Summary: 

Once it is increasingly hard to find representative samples of illiterate and/or late literate adults, it is important and urgent to research these populations (KOLINSKY, 2015). This study aims at investigating the acquisition of literacy by illiterate and/or ex-illiterate adults comparing them to literate adults, in order to verify how literacy changes the way in which we store and process information, whether learning an alphabetic reading system modifies memory and executive functions, as well as which factors are involved in the success of this process. The study was carried out with 10 illiterate and/or ex-illiterate adults (who learned to read at adult age) and 10 literate adults (who learned to read in childhood), matched in socioeconomics status (SES), in the South of Brazil. A word verbal memory repetition test was used to verify the memory capacity (word span). In order to evaluate the length and the lexicality effects, the test was divided in four tasks: monosyllabic and three-syllable words, monosyllabic and three-syllable pseudowords. As demonstrated by Morais (1979) and Castro-Caldas (1998), the study confirms the difference of the phonological processing on illiterate subjects compared to the literates. The illiterate subjects have more difficulty in repeating pseudowords accurately and try harder to find a reference in their mental lexicon, relating these pseudowords to known real words. However, in this study, the main difference between the groups was the low performance of the illiterates in word task repetition, in both monosyllabic and three-syllabic words. The verbal memory is directly affected by literacy. Acquisition of reading refines mental lexicon representation by adding orthographic knowledge to the auditory and semantic representation of words, favouring performance in words and pseudowords repetition tasks. Therefore, verbal memory capacity is affected since language information storage seems to heavily depend on literacy skills.