Franklin R Manis

Professor/Psychology Department/Neuroscience Graduate Program

Faculty Fellow, Center for Excellence in Teaching

Franklin R Manis

Research Topics

  • Reading development
  • Cognitive bases of dyslexia
  • Brain functioning in skilled reading

Research Images

Dornsife MRI facilityLeft hemisphere language and reading network, with VWFA circled.Crosshairs show the location of activation in the VWFA during the reading of words and pseudowords3-D cut-away view of brain activation during word and pseudoword reading

Research Overview

The major goals of my research are to understand how people learn to read and what goes wrong in developmental dyslexia. In order to learn to read, the brain must integrate systems that originally evolved for other purposes, such as linguistic communication and visual perception. In most individuals, the reading network in the brain is quite extensive, and includes the classic left hemisphere language regions where meanings and pronunciations appear to be computed (Wernicke's and Broca's areas) as well as regions that connect visual processing of print to the language network, such as the occipito-temporal junction, also known as the visual word form area (VWFA). Dyslexic individuals struggle to learn to read, and even as adults, show reduced activation in the reading network, including the VWFA, as well as compensatory activation in other regions of the brain.

My research group is conducting studies in both children and adults to explore why dyslexic people have so much trouble learning to read, and what their problems can tell us about the normal process of reading. One line of work focuses on VWFA activation in adults with and without dyslexia. In a collaboration with Zhong-Lin Lu and two graduate students, Allison Zumberge (Neuroscience) and Jennifer Bruno (Psychology), I am using a novel fMRI methodology to isolate activation to printed words in the VWFA and analyze the properties of printed words that affect VWFA activation in dyslexic and non-dyslexic adults.

The most salient reading problem for dyslexic children involves sounding out unfamiliar words (phonological decoding deficit). This deficit is thought to lead to problems in building up representations of words in the VWFA, and hence is developmentally primary. However, it is unclear what causes the phonological decoding problem. Two seemingly unrelated deficits occur in dyslexic children and adults who have phonological decoding deficits. The first involves visual magnocellular processing, as for example, in pattern recognition under conditions of low visual contrast, or perception of visual motion. The second involves the categorical perception of speech sounds. My colleagues and I think that these two areas of deficiency may be related.

In experiments conducted with Anne Sperling (Neuroscience Ph.D., 2004) and Zhong-Lin Lu, we showed that the visual magnocellular deficit only occurred under noisy visual conditions, and furthermore that it was more salient among dyslexic children with oral language delays. In previous work with Patricia Keating (UCLA Phonetics Lab), my research group had demonstrated that the speech perception deficit was more severe among dyslexics with language deficits. We now hypothesize that a problem in forming perceptual categories in a noisy environment might underlie both the visual and auditory perception problems. In an ongoing study with Lu and Keating, I am investigating whether dyslexic children show deficits in noise exclusion with both auditory and visual stimuli, and whether the noise perception problems are associated with poor phonological decoding and word recognition.

Contact Information

Mailing Address SGM 525A MC 1061
Office Location SGM 525A
Office Phone (213) 740-6567
Lab Location SGM 527
Lab Phone (213) 740-2217
Fax (213) 746-9082
Office Location SGM 525A



  • B.A. in Psychology, Pomona College, 1975
  • Ph.D. in Child Psychology, University of Minnesota, 1981

Selected Publications

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  • Beattie, R. L. and Manis, F. R. (2011). The relationship between prosodic perception, phonological awareness and vocabulary in emergent literacy. Journal of Research in Reading. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9817.2011.01507.

  • Beattie, R., Lu, Z. L., & Manis, F. R. (2011). Dyslexic adults can learn from repeated stimuluspresentation but have difficulties in excluding external noise. PLoS ONE 6(11): e27893. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027893.

  • Manis, F. R., Lindsey, K. A. (2010). Cognitive and oral language contributors to reading disabilities in Spanish-English bilingual children. In A. Durgonoglu & C. A. Goldenberg (Eds.), Language and Literacy Development in Bilingual Settings (pp. 280-303). New York, NY: Guilford.

  • Spencer, S. A., & Manis, F. R. (2010).  The effects of a fluency intervention program on the fluency and comprehension outcomes of middle-school students with severe reading deficits. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 25, 76-86.

  • Bruno, J. L., Zumberge, A., Manis, F. R., Lu, Z. L., & Goldman, J. G. (2008) Sensitivity to orthographic familiarity in the cccipito-temporal region. Neuroimage, 39, 1988-2001. PubMed
  • Nakamoto, J., Lindsey, K. A., & Manis, F. R. (2008).  A cross-linguistic investigation of English language learners’ reading comprehension in English and Spanish. Scientific Studies of Reading, 12, 351-371.

  • Bruno JL, Manis FR, Keating P, Sperling AJ, Nakamoto J, Seidenberg MS. (2007) Auditory word identification in dyslexic and normally achieving readers. J Exp Child Psychol. PubMed
  • Zumberge A, Baker LA, Manis FR. (2007) Focus on words: a twin study of reading and inattention. Behav Genet. 37(2):284-93. PubMed
  • Sperling AJ, Lu ZL, Manis FR, Seidenberg MS. (2006) Motion-perception deficits and reading impairment: it's the noise, not the motion. Psychol Sci. (12):1047-53. PubMed
  • Sperling AJ, Lu ZL, Manis FR, Seidenberg MS. (2006) Deficits in achromatic phantom contour perception in poor readers. Neuropsychologia. 44(10):1900-8. PubMed
  • Manis, F. R., & Keating, P. (2005) Speech perception in dyslexic children with and without language impairments. In H. W. Catts & A. G. Kamhi (Eds.). The connections between language and reading disabilities. (pp. 77-99). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Sperling, A.J., Lu, Z.-L., Manis, F.R., & Seidenberg, M.S. (2005) Deficits in perceptual noise exclusion in developmental dyslexia. Nature Neuroscience. 29  PubMed
  • Manis, F. R., Lindsey, K. A., & Bailey, C. E. (2004) Development of reading in grades K-2 in Spanish-speaking English language learners. Journal of Learning Disabilities Research and Practice. 19, 214-224.
  • Sperling, A.J., Lu, Z.-L., & Manis, F.R. (2004) Slower implicit categorical learning in adult poor readers. Annals of Dyslexia. 54, 281-303. PubMed
  • Bailey, C. E., Manis, F. R., Seidenberg, M. S., Petersen, W., & Seidenberg, M. S. (2004) Variation among developmental dyslexics: Evidence from a printed-word-learning task. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 87, 125-154. PubMed