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The cue-based retrieval model provides a theory-driven account for reading comprehension difficulties.  The most provocative aspect of this account is that there is no prediction that working memory capacity will affect comprehension.  In the presence of a fast, content-addressable retrieval mechanism, it is not necessary to hold information in active memory.  Rather, it is necessary for retrieval cues to be accurate and discriminating, and for lexical representations to adequately encode the full context of a word’s usage.

Poor vocabulary leads to more retrieval interference

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Individuals with poor vocabulary knowledge are susceptible to increased retrieval interference effects from semantically similar words because their low dimensional representations are easily confusable. This means that even when retrieval cues are clear, incorrect interpretations arise because of spreading activation between similar meanings.  In contrast, individuals with weak grammar ability can be spared from retrieval interference caused by grammatical overlap among embedded clauses.  This finding points to the usefulness of syntactic interference constructions as a diagnostic of grammar ability.  

Other individual differences work investigates the neural regions associated with comprehension ability, and the association between comprehension ability and prosodic markers of grammatical structure..

Representative Publications

Johns, C. L., Campanelli, L., Kush, D., Landi, N., & Van Dyke, J. A.(2019, February 19). Individual differences in combinatorial semantic processing: Skilled comprehension facilitates complement coercion during sentence comprehension. [osf]

Johns, C.L., Jahn, A.A., Jones, H.R., Kush, D., Molfese, P.J., Van Dyke, J.A.,Magnuson, J.S., Tabor, W., Mencl, W.E., Shankweiler, D.P., Braze, D. (2018). Individual differences in decoding skill, print exposure, and cortical structure in young adults.  Language, Cognition, and Neuroscience.   [publisher | pubmed]


Tan, Y., Martin, R.C., Van Dyke, J.A.(2017).  Semantic and syntactic interference in sentence comprehension: A Comparison of Working Memory Models. Frontiers in Psychology,8, 198. [publisher | pubmed]


Breen, M., Kaswer, L., Van Dyke, J.A.,Krivokapić, J. & Landi, N. (2016). Imitated prosodic fluency predicts reading comprehension ability in good and poor high school readers. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1026. [publisher | pubmed]

Kush, D. Johns, C.L., Van Dyke, J.A.(2015) Identifying the role of phonology in sentence-level reading difficulty. Journal of Memory and Language, 79-80, 18-29.  [publisher | pubmed]

Van Dyke, J.A.,& Johns, C.L. Kukona, A. (2014).  Low working memory capacity is only spuriously related to poor reading comprehension, Cognition, 131(3), 373-403. [publisher | pubmed]

Van Dyke, J.A.& Johns, C.L. (2012). Memory interference as a determinant of language comprehension. Language and Linguistic Compass, 6(4), 193-211. [publisher |pubmed]

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