Research aims to improve reading for older people

A University of Leicester project examining how the effects of ageing impact on our ability to read has received £200K funding.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is announcing £2.6 million of funding for 13 new projects funded under the Transformative Research Call. These projects will run for up to 24 months and commenced 1 September 2018.

Through these, the ESRC is supporting transformative research ideas at the frontiers of social science, enabling research that challenges conventional thinking, that involves the novel application of theory and methods, that could lead to a paradigm shift in its field, and that has the potential to make a substantial contribution towards social science. The research council sought research that might yield results that would radically change accepted thinking in the social sciences or lead to paradigm shifts: these are ideas that help make the UK one of the world’s most innovative economies.

These projects cover diverse issues, such as human rights, chronic disease, sustainable development of cities and the prevention of child abuse.

The University of Leicester project is led by Professor Kevin Paterson and Dr Sarah White from Department of Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour, and aims to develop new methods that will allow us to study the effects of ageing on how words are recognised in the brain. 

Many studies show that people find it more difficult to read as they reach older age. This might be because words are recognised more slowly in older brains. This research will be the first to examine this effect of ageing during natural reading, which is when the reader freely moves their eyes along lines of text. 

The researchers will use an eye-tracking device to record precisely where the reader is looking at each moment in time, while simultaneously measuring patterns of brain activity from electrodes placed on the scalp. The findings will be used to develop more sophisticated accounts of cognitive ageing and to help inform techniques and training regimes that might help older people read more easily. 

Professor Paterson said: "I am very excited to receive funding from the ESRC to conduct this research in collaboration with Dr Sarah White and Dr Ascen Pagan. The project will allow us to establish innovative new methods for studying the effects of cognitive ageing that will help us develop new ways to support older people to read effectively for both work and leisure."

These awards will provide a major stimulus for developments in the social sciences and have the potential to produce significant economic and societal impact.

Professor Jennifer Rubin, Executive Chair of ESRC said: "We are delighted that these 13 applicants have secured backing for their genuinely transformative research projects. The insights from these standout projects will challenge conventional thinking, and push the boundaries of a range of social science disciplines and topic areas. By working at the frontiers of social science these projects have the potential to have significant instrumental and conceptual impacts across academia, economics, and society."