Reading and Writing

, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 121–141 | Cite as

The contribution of executive functions to naming digits, objects, and words

  • Angeliki AltaniEmail author
  • Athanassios Protopapas
  • George K. Georgiou


Although it is established that reading fluency is more strongly related to serial naming of symbols than to naming of isolated items (serial superiority effect), the reason for the difference remains unclear. The purpose of this study was to examine the role of executive functions in explaining the serial superiority effect. One hundred seven Grade 6 Greek children were assessed on serial and discrete naming (digits, objects, and words), executive (inhibition, shifting, and updating) and non-executive tasks (simple choice reaction), and on a serial Rapid Alternating Stimuli task. Reading fluency correlated more strongly with serial naming than with discrete naming, consistent with the serial superiority effect. In hierarchical regression analyses, executive measures failed to account for variance shared between serial naming and reading fluency. In confirmatory factor analyses, including a discrete and a serial factor for the naming tasks, variance in the executive tasks not shared with simple choice reaction was not associated with the serial factor. Thus, the executive tasks failed to account for the serial superiority effect. The high correlation between the simple choice factor and the discrete naming factor suggests that method variance partially underlies the observed relationship between executive function tasks and word reading. We argue that the distinction between serial and discrete dimensions indicates that internally regulated cognitive control is crucial for the serial superiority in naming symbols and words.


Executive functions Rapid automatized naming Fluency Reading Serial superiority effect 


  1. Altemeier, L., Abbott, R. D., & Berninger, V. W. (2008). Executive functions for reading and writing in typical literacy development and dyslexia. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 30, 588–606.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Amtmann, D., Abbott, R. D., & Berninger, V. W. (2007). Mixture growth models of RAN and RAS row by row: Insight into the reading system at work over time. Reading and Writing, 20, 785–813.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arrington, C. N., Kulesz, P. A., Francis, D. J., Fletcher, J. M., & Barnes, M. A. (2014). The contribution of attentional control and working memory to reading comprehension and decoding. Scientific Studies of Reading, 18, 325–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bental, B., & Tirosh, E. (2007). The relationship between attention, executive function and reading domain abilities in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and reading disorder: A comparative study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 48, 455–463.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bexkens, A., van den Wildenberg, W. P. M., & Tijms, J. (2015). Rapid automatized naming in children with dyslexia: Is inhibitory control involved? Dyslexia, 21, 212–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Boersma, P., & Weeninck, D. (2012). Praat: Doing phonetics by computer (Version 5.3.17) [Computer program]. Retrieved June 13, 2012, from
  7. Booth, J. N., Boyle, J. M. E., & Kelly, S. W. (2014). The relationship between inhibition and working memory in predicting children’s reading difficulties. Journal of Research in Reading, 37, 84–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brosnan, M., Demetre, J., Hamill, S., Robson, K., Shepherd, H., & Cody, G. (2002). Executive functioning in adults and children with developmental dyslexia. Neuropsychologia, 40, 2144–2155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Browne, M. W., & Cudeck, R. (1993). Alternative ways of assessing model fit. In K. A. Bollen & J. S. Long (Eds.), Testing structural equation models (pp. 136–162). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  10. Christopher, M. E., Miyake, A., Keenan, J. M., Pennington, B., DeFries, J. D., Wadsworth, S. J., et al. (2012). Predicting word reading and comprehension with executive function and speed measures across development: A latent variable analysis. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 141, 470–488.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. de Jong, P. F. (2011). What discrete and serial rapid automatized naming can reveal about reading. Scientific Studies of Reading, 15, 314–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. De Luca, C. R., Wood, S. J., Anderson, V., Buchanan, J.-A., Proffitt, T. M., Mahony, K., et al. (2003). Normative data from the Cantab. I: Development of executive function over the lifespan. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 25, 242–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Denckla, M., & Rudel, R. (1976). Naming of object drawings by dyslexic and other learning disabled children. Brain and Language, 3, 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Diamond, A. (2013). Executive functions. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 135–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dimitropoulou, M., Duñabeitia, J. A., Blitsas, P., & Carreiras, M. (2009). A standardized set of 260 pictures for Modern Greek: Norms for name agreement, age of acquisition and visual complexity. Behavior Research Methods, 41, 584–589.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Everatt, J., Warner, J., Miles, T. R., & Thomson, M. E. (1997). The incident of Stroop interference in dyslexia. Dyslexia, 3, 222–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Everatt, J., Weeks, S., & Brooks, P. (2008). Profiles of strengths and weaknesses in dyslexia and other reading difficulties. Dyslexia, 14, 16–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Faccioli, C., Peru, A., Rubini, E., & Tassinari, G. (2008). Poor readers but compelled to read: Stroop effects in developmental dyslexia. Child Neuropsychology, 14, 277–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Forster, K. I., & Forster, J. C. (2003). DMDX: A windows display program with millisecond accuracy. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers, 35, 116–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fox, J., Nie, Z., & Byrnes, J. (2014). sem: Structural equation models. R package version 3.1.2, retrieved from
  21. Fuhs, M. W., & Day, J. D. (2011). Verbal ability and executive functioning development in preschoolers at head start. Developmental Psychology, 47, 404–416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gathercole, S. E., Alloway, T. P., Willis, C., & Adams, A.-M. (2006). Working memory in children with reading disabilities. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 93, 265–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Georgiou, G. K., Parrila, R., Cui, Y., & Papadopoulos, T. C. (2013). Why is rapid automatized naming related to reading? Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 115, 218–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gordon, P. C., & Hoedemaker, R. S. (2015). Effective scheduling of looking and talking during rapid automatized naming. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. doi: 10.1037/xhp0000171
  25. Hatzigeorgiu, N., Gavrilidou, M., Piperidis, S., Carayannis, G., Papakostopoulou, A., Spiliotopoulou, A., et al. (2000). Design and implementation of the online ILSP corpus. In Proceedings of the second international conference of language recourses and evaluation (LREC) (Vol. 3, pp. 1737–1740). Athens, Greece.Google Scholar
  26. Helland, T., & Asbjørnsen, A. (2000). Executive function in dyslexia. Child Neuropsychology, 6, 37–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hu, L.-T., & Bentler, P. M. (1999). Cutoff criteria for fit indexes in covariance structure analysis: Conventional criteria versus new alternatives. Structural Equation Modeling: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 6, 1–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Johnston, T. C., & Kirby, J. R. (2006). The contribution of naming speed to the simple view of reading. Reading and Writing, 19, 339–361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Jones, M. W., Branigan, H. P., Hatzidaki, A., & Obregón, M. (2010). Is the “naming” deficit in dyslexia a misnomer? Cognition, 116, 56–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Jones, M. W., Branigan, H. P., & Kelly, M. L. (2009). Dyslexic and nondyslexic reading fluency: Rapid automatized naming and the importance of continuous lists. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 16, 567–572.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kendeou, P., van den Broek, P., Helder, A., & Karlsson, J. (2014). A cognitive view of reading comprehension: Implications for reading difficulties. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 29, 10–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kirby, J. R., Georgiou, G. K., Martinussen, R., & Parrila, R. (2010). Naming speed and reading: From prediction to instruction. Reading Research Quarterly, 45, 341–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Klein, R. M. (2002). Observations on the temporal correlates of reading failure. Reading and Writing, 15, 207–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Latzman, R. D., Elkovitch, N., Young, J., & Clark, L. A. (2010). The contribution of executive functioning to academic achievement among male adolescents. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 32, 455–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Laubrock, J., & Kliegl, R. (2015). The eye-voice span during reading aloud. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Lervåg, A., Bråten, I., & Hulme, C. (2009). The cognitive and linguistic foundations of early reading development: A Norwegian latent variable longitudinal study. Developmental Psychology, 45, 764–781.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Logan, J. A. R., Schatschneider, C., & Wagner, R. K. (2011). Rapid serial naming and reading ability: The role of lexical access. Reading and Writing, 24, 1–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. McLeod, C. M. (1991). Half a century of research on the Stroop effect: An integrative review. Psychological Bulletin, 109, 163–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Miyake, A., Friedman, N. P., Emerson, M. J., Witzki, A. H., Howerter, A., & Wager, T. D. (2000). The unity and diversity of executive functions and their contributions to complex “Frontal Lobe” tasks: A latent variable analysis. Cognitive Psychology, 41, 49–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Morgan, J. L., & Meyer, A. S. (2005). Processing of extrafoveal objects during multiple-object naming. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 31, 428–442.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Närhi, V., Ahonen, T., Aro, M., Leppasaari, T., Korhone, T., Tolvanen, A., et al. (2005). Rapid serial naming: Relations between different stimuli and neuropsychological factors. Brain and Language, 92, 45–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Navarro, J. I., Aguilar, M., Alcalde, C., Ruiz, G., Marchena, E., & Menacho, I. (2011). Inhibitory processes, working memory, phonological awareness, naming speed, and early arithmetic achievement. The Spanish Journal of Psychology, 14, 580–588.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Pham, A. V., Fine, J. G., & Semrud-Clikeman, M. (2011). The influence of inattention and rapid automatized naming on reading performance. Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, 26, 214–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Protopapas, A. (2007). Check Vocal: A program to facilitate checking the accuracy and response time of vocal responses from DMDX. Behavior Research Methods, 39, 859–862.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Protopapas, A., Altani, A., & Georgiou, G. K. (2013a). Development of serial processing in reading and rapid naming. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 116, 914–929.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Protopapas, A., Altani, A., & Georgiou, G. K. (2013b). RAN backward: A test of the visual scanning hypothesis. Scientific Studies of Reading, 17, 453–461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Protopapas, A., Archonti, A., & Skaloumpakas, C. (2007a). Reading ability is negatively related to Stroop interference. Cognitive Psychology, 54, 251–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Protopapas, A., Sideridis, G. D., Mouzaki, A., & Simos, P. G. (2007b). Development of lexical mediation in the relation between reading comprehension and word reading skills in Greek. Scientific Studies of Reading, 11, 165–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Rindskopf, D. (1984). Using phantom and imaginary latent variables to parameterize constraints in linear structural models. Psychometrika, 49, 37–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Rose, S. A., Feldman, J. F., & Jankowski, J. J. (2011). Modeling a cascade of effects: The role of speed and executive functioning in preterm/full-term differences in academic achievement. Developmental Science, 14, 1161–1175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Savage, R., Pillay, V., & Melidona, S. (2007). Deconstructing rapid automatized naming: Component processes and the prediction of reading difficulties. Learning and Individual Differences, 17, 129–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Semrud-Clikeman, M., Guy, K., Griffin, J. D., & Hynd, G. W. (2000). Rapid naming deficits in children and adolescents with reading disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Brain and Language, 74, 70–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Sesma, H. W., Mahone, E. M., Levine, T., Eason, S. H., & Cutting, L. E. (2009). The contribution of executive skills to reading comprehension. Child Neuropsychology, 15, 232–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Shanahan, M. A., Pennington, B. F., Yerys, B. E., Scott, A., Boada, R., Willcutt, E. G., et al. (2006). Processing speed deficits in attention deficit/hyperactive disorder and reading disability. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 34, 584–601.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Shao, Z., Meyer, A. S., & Roelofs, A. (2013). Selective and nonselective inhibition of competitors in picture naming. Memory & Cognition, 41, 1200–1211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Shao, Z., Roelofs, A., & Meyer, A. S. (2012). Sources of individual differences in the speed of naming objects and actions: The contribution of executive control. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 65, 1927–1944.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Smith, E. E., & Jonides, J. (1997). Working memory: A view from neuroimaging. Cognitive Psychology, 33, 5–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Snodgrass, J. G., & Vanderwart, M. (1980). A standardized set of 260 pictures: Norms for name agreement, image agreement, familiarity, and visual complexity. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 6, 174–215.Google Scholar
  59. Stringer, R. W., Toplak, M. E., & Stanovich, K. E. (2004). Differential relationships between RAN performance, behaviour ratings, and executive function measures: Searching for a double dissociation. Reading and Writing, 17, 891–914.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Stroop, J. R. (1935). Studies of interference in serial verbal reactions. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 18, 643–662.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. van der Sluis, S., de Jong, P. F., & van der Leij, A. (2004). Inhibition and shifting in children with learning deficits in arithmetic and reading. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 87, 239–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. van der Sluis, S., de Jong, P. F., & van der Leij, A. (2007). Executive functioning in children, and its relations with reasoning, reading, and arithmetic. Intelligence, 35, 427–449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. van der Ven, S. H. G., Kroesbergen, E. H., Boom, J., & Leseman, P. P. M. (2013). The structure of executive functions in children: A closer examination of inhibition, shifting and updating. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 31, 70–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Wiebe, S. A., Espy, K. A., & Charak, D. (2008). Using confirmatory factor analysis to understand executive control in preschool children: I. Latent structure. Developmental Psychology, 44, 575–587.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Wiebe, S. A., Sheffield, T., Nelson, J. M., Clark, C. A. C., Chevalier, N., & Espy, K. A. (2011). The structure of executive function in 3-year-olds. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 108, 436–452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Willcutt, E. G., Pennington, B. F., Olson, R. K., Chhabildas, N., & Hulslander, J. (2005). Neuropsychological analyses of comorbidity between reading disability and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: In search of the common deficit. Developmental Neuropsychology, 27, 35–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Wolf, M. (1986). Rapid alternating stimulus naming in the developmental dyslexias. Brain and Language, 27, 360–379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Zelazo, P. D., Müller, U., Frye, D., & Marcovitch S. (2003). The development of executive function in early childhood. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 68. Serial No. 274.Google Scholar
  69. Zoccolotti, P., De Luca, M., Lami, L., Pizzoli, C., Pontillo, M., & Spinelli, D. (2013). Multiple stimulus presentation yields larger deficits in children with developmental dyslexia: A study with reading and RAN-type tasks. Child Neuropsychology, 19, 639–647.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Zoccolotti, P., De Luca, M., & Spinelli, D. (2015). Discrete versus multiple word displays: A re-analysis of studies comparing dyslexic and typically developing children. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1530.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Angeliki Altani
    • 1
    Email author
  • Athanassios Protopapas
    • 2
  • George K. Georgiou
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Educational PsychologyUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  2. 2.Department of Philosophy and History of ScienceUniversity of AthensZografosGreece

Personalised recommendations