Predicting individual differences in reading, spelling and maths in a sample of typically developing children: A study in the perspective of comorbidity

Pierluigi Zoccolotti, Maria De Luca, Chiara Valeria Marinelli, Donatella Spinelli

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


We examined reading, spelling, and mathematical skills in an unselected group of 129 Italian fifth graders by testing various cognitive predictors for each behaviour. As dependent variables, we measured performance in behaviours with a clear functional value in everyday life, such as reading a text, spelling under dictation and doing mental and written computations. As predictors, we selected cognitive dimensions having an explicit relation with the target behaviour (called proximal predictors), and prepared various tests in order to select which task had the best predictive power on each behaviour. The aim was to develop a model of proximal predictors of reading (speed and accuracy), spelling (accuracy) and maths (speed and accuracy) characterized by efficacy also in comparison to the prediction based on general cognitive factors (i.e., short-term memory, phonemic verbal fluency, visual perceptual speed, and non-verbal intelligence) and parsimony, pinpointing the role of both common and unique predictors as envisaged in the general perspective of co-morbidity. With one exception (reading accuracy), the proximal predictors models (based on communality analyses) explained a sizeable amount of variance, ranging from 27.5% in the case of calculation (accuracy) to 48.7% of reading (fluency). Models based on general cognitive factors also accounted for some variance (ranging from 6.5% in the case of spelling to 19.5% in the case of reading fluency) but this was appreciably less than that explained by models based on the hypothesized proximal predictors. In general, results confirmed the efficacy of proximal models in predicting reading, spelling and maths although they offered only limited support for common predictors across different learning skills; namely, performance in the Orthographic Decision test entered as a predictor of both reading and spelling indicating that a single orthographic lexicon may account for performance in reading and spelling. Possible lines of research to expand on this approach are illustrated.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0231937
JournalPLoS One
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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