Saccadic reaction times (SRT) were measured in a simple task: subjects
had to make saccades from a central fixation point to peripheral
targets, which appeared randomly 4 deg to the left or to the right.
In the first test the fixation point went off before the target appeared (gap trials); in the second test it remained on the screen (overlap trials).
The distribution of SRTs for trained normal adults (N = 4), untrained normal adults (N = 11), untrained normal children (aged 9-11 years, N = 9), untrained normal teenagers (aged 15-17 years, N = 8), dyslexic children (aged 9-11 years, N = 15), and dyslexic teenagers (aged 15-17 years, N = 5) were compared, with special emphasis on the number of express saccades, ie saccades with extremely short reaction times (100-120 ms, under the present conditions).
In normal adults with the gap paradigm, the distribution of reaction times typically exhibits two or three modes (express saccades, fast regular saccades, and very few slow regular saccades), whereas in the overlap paradigm only one or two modes (few fast regular saccades and many slow regular saccades) are obtained. On average, normal children produce more express saccades than naive normal adults. Dyslexic children produce more express saccades than the normal age-matched controls.
Among the dyslexic children, four different types of abnormalities in their reaction times were encountered. The group of dyslexic teenagers was characterized by a larger number of express saccades at the expense of fast regular saccades in gap trials and by fewer express saccades and fewer fast regular saccades in overlap trials when compared to the age-matched control group.
It is concluded that the abnormal patterns of saccadic reaction times reflect defects in the system of visual attention and/or in its control over the oculomotor system, rather than indicating a defect in the oculomotor system itself. In this context, symptoms of dyslexia appear as a combination of attentional deficits and irregular timing of saccadic eye movements.