Application to adolescents of a pure set-shifting measure for adults: identification of poor shifting skills in the group with Developmental Dyslexia

Marika Ferrara, Erika Benassi, Michela Camia, Maristella Scorza


Backgrounds. Shifting (or cognitive flexibility) has been conceptualized as the ability to flexibly switch between multiple tasks, strategies, mental set or conceptual representations. The literature concerning this ability in adolescents with Developmental Dyslexia (DD) appears scant and inconsistent, as some studies report deficits in this function while others do not. Conflicting findings also emerge across studies exploring the influence of shifting performance on reading abilities.

Aims. The main goal of the study was to investigate set-shifting abilities in adolescents with DD using the Fluency Test developed by Costa and colleagues (2014). It is a tool used to investigate “pure” set-shifting skill in healthy adults and in patients with neurological diseases; for its properties, this test should also be appropriate for testing shifting abilities in adolescents. We also investigated the extent to which shifting abilities were related to the adolescents’ reading skills.

Method. The study involved 138 adolescents aged between 11 and 17 years, of which 69 with DD and 69 with typical development (TD). The Fluency test by Costa and colleagues, a standardized measure of executive efficiency and reading tasks were administered in both groups.

Results. Data showed significant differences between the two groups in the Fluency test, with poorer performances in the adolescents with DD relative to TD peers. Significant but weak/medium correlations between set-shifting skill and reading abilities were found in this sample.

Conclusions. This work highlights the importance of evaluating shifting abilities in adolescents with DD using shifting tasks as pure as possible, in order to obtain a more accurate assessment of neuropsychological profiles also in clinical practice.


Shifting; Executive functions; Reading; Adolescents; Developmental dyslexia.

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