Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Reading skills are related to global, but not local, acoustic pattern perception


Although reading ability has been related to the processing of simple pitch features such as isolated transitions or continuous modulation1,2,3, spoken language also contains complex patterns of pitch changes that are important for establishing stress location4 and for segmenting the speech stream5. These aspects of spoken language processing depend critically on pitch pattern (global structure) rather than on absolute pitch values (local structure)6,7. Here we show that the detection of global structure, and not local structure, is predictive of performance on measures of phonological skill and reading ability, which supports a critical importance of pitch contour processing in the acquisition of literacy.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Examples of the auditory sequences.


  1. Tallal, P. Brain Lang. 9, 182–198 (1980).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. France, S.J. et al. Percept. Psychophys. 64, 169–179 (2002).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Witton, C. et al. Curr. Biol. 8, 791–797 (1998).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Morton, J. & Jassem, W. Lang. Speech 8, 159–181 (1965).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Jusczyk, P.W. Trends Cogn. Sci. 3, 323–328 (1999).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Bolinger, D.L. Word 14, 109–149 (1958).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Gimson, A.C. Z. Phon. 9, 143 (1956).

    Google Scholar 

  8. Dowling, W.J. & Fujitani, D.S. J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 49, 524–531 (1971).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Nelson, H.E. & Willison, J.R. National Adult Reading Test Manual 2nd edn. (NFER–Nelson, Windsor, UK, 1991).

    Google Scholar 

  10. Olson R., Forsberg, H., Wise, B. & Rack, J. in Frames of Reference for the Assessment of Learning Disabilities: New Views on Measurement Issues (ed. Lyon, G.R.) 243–277 (Paul H. Brookes, Baltimore, 1994).

    Google Scholar 

  11. Snowling, M.J. Psychol. Res. 43, 219–234 (1981).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Raven, J.C., Court, J.H. & Raven, J. Raven's Progressive Matrices and Vocabulary Scales (H.K. Lewis & Co. Ltd., London, 1988).

    Google Scholar 

  13. Trehub, S.E., Bull, D. & Thorpe, L.A. Child Devel. 55, 821–830 (1984).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Trehub, S.E., Thorpe, L.A. & Morrongiello, B.A. Child Devel. 58, 741–749 (1987).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


This work was supported entirely by the Wellcome Trust.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jessica M. Foxton.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Foxton, J., Talcott, J., Witton, C. et al. Reading skills are related to global, but not local, acoustic pattern perception. Nat Neurosci 6, 343–344 (2003).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing