The impact of word frequency on peripheral processes during handwriting: A matter of age

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​Although several studies have found that the sublexical route of spelling has an effect on handwriting movements, the ability of lexical variables to modulate peripheral processes during writing is less clear. This study addresses the hypothesis that word frequency affects writing durations only during writing acquisition, and that at some point of development, the handwriting system becomes a relatively autonomous system unaffected by lexical variables. Spanish children attending Grade 2, 4, and 6 performed a spelling-to-dictation and a copy task in which word frequency was manipulated. Results revealed that written latencies decreased with age, especially between Grade 2 and 4 and also that writing durations decreased between these two groups. All these measures were longer during copying but the effect of task on written latencies and in-air pen trajectories was smaller for older children. Crucially, a significant word frequency effect on writing durations was observed only in Grade 2. This effect was marginally significant in Grade 4 and disappeared in Grade 6. However, all groups showed a similar effect of word frequency on written latencies. These findings suggest that lexical processes impact peripheral processes during writing acquisition and that this influence diminishes to eventually disappear at some point in development, presumably when the handwriting system becomes an autonomous system.


Olivia Afonso
Paz Suarez-Coalla
Nagore Gonzalez-Martin
Fernando Cuetos


Faculty of Health and Life Sciences


handwriting, spelling, writing durations, word frequency, writing acquisition

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Afonso, O., Suarez-Coalla, P., Gonzalez-Martin, N. and Cuetos, F. () 'The impact of word frequency on peripheral processes during handwriting: A matter of age', The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 71(3), pp.695-703. DOI: 10.1080/17470218.2016.1275713.