Multimodal Investigation of Reading in Children: More from Brem and Colleagues

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

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Last time we read an article from Brem and colleagues that compared word processing in adolescents (age 15-17) and adults (19-30). In follow-up paper from 2009, Brem expanded the report to include children (9-11).

If you didn’t read the last post, it’s probably a good idea to do that first. I won’t repeat any of the methodological details or background information here, just gonna make few quick notes on their results.

The 2006 paper found that adolescents had higher N1 amplitude than adults. Here, Brem reports that children have an even higher N1 amplitude with adolescents, thus suggesting a steady decrease in N1 amplitude from age 9 onwards.

For all groups, the N1 amplitude was higher for words than symbols. However, the difference between words and symbols declined with age. At first, I found this counterintuitive. I would have expected the opposite, with kids treating words and symbol similarly and the word/symbol difference getting larger as they matured and became better readers. The kids in this study, however, have already been reading for a few years. Perhaps they’re at the stage where they can process the words but are less efficient in doing so, thus resulting in a higher N1 amplitude for words than symbols.

On the fMRI front, Brem found the same  posterior to anterior gradient in the fusiform gyrus, with posterior regions being more responsive to symbols, and anterior regions being more responsive to words. There didn’t seem to be any difference between age groups there.

Brem also increases that a higher signal in anterior fusiform is correlated with slower reading.
(This is opposite of what was reported in other paper, perhaps I’m misreading the paper.)

There were some discrepancies between EEG and fMRI results. The N1 ERP component shows clear difference between words and symbols, but the fMRI analysis doesn’t show differences in the occipital temporal region, the calculated source of the N1. The could be due to temporal resolution. The N1 component only lasts about 100 ms.  EEG has good enough temporal resolution to pick up on the difference, but fMRI may not.

Brem S, Halder P, Bucher K, Summers P, Martin E, & Brandeis D (2009). Tuning of the visual word processing system: distinct developmental ERP and fMRI effects. Human brain mapping, 30 (6), 1833-44 PMID: 19288464


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