Deconstructing phonological tasks: The contribution of stimulus and response type to the prediction of early decoding skills

Anna J. Cunningham, C. Witton, J.B. Talcott, A.P. Burgess, L.R. Shapiro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
33 Downloads (Pure)


Phonological tasks are highly predictive of reading development but their complexity obscures the underlying mechanisms driving this association. There are three key components hypothesised to drive the relationship between phonological tasks and reading; (a) the linguistic nature of the stimuli, (b) the phonological complexity of the stimuli, and (c) the production of a verbal response. We isolated the contribution of the stimulus and response components separately through the creation of latent variables to represent specially designed tasks that were matched for procedure. These tasks were administered to 570 6 to 7-year-old children along with standardised tests of regular word and non-word reading. A structural equation model, where tasks were grouped according to stimulus, revealed that the linguistic nature and the phonological complexity of the stimulus predicted unique variance in decoding, over and above matched comparison tasks without these components. An alternative model, grouped according to response mode, showed that the production of a verbal response was a unique predictor of decoding beyond matched tasks without a verbal response. In summary, we found that multiple factors contributed to reading development, supporting multivariate models over those that prioritize single factors. More broadly, we demonstrate the value of combining matched task designs with latent variable modelling to deconstruct the components of complex tasks.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)178–186
Early online date10 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Economic and Social Research Council


  • phonological awareness
  • decoding
  • task
  • reading
  • measurement
  • latent variable modelling


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