The N1 Component in Second Graders

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Accessibility: Advanced

Last week, we learned that the N1 component in normal reading adults differentiated between words and symbols, while the N1 component in pre-reading kindergartners did not. The question now is, at what point in development does N1 component start resembling that of adults? Maurer and colleagues tested the same kindergartners from their 2005 paper when the kids were in second grade to see how their brain activity changed after two years of reading instruction.

These were their findings:
1. The N1 component differentiates between words and simple strings in the second graders.
2. Second graders actually had a greater words/symbols N1 difference than adults.*
3. There is a correlation between N1 specialization and reading fluency. In other words, the difference in N1 amplitude between words and symbols was correlated with faster reading in the second graders.
4. The N1 negativity was more left lateralized in adults than in children. The N1 topography was bilateral for 2nd graders, and right lateralized in kindergareners.

Conclusions: Two years of reading instruction is enough for the brain to start differentiating between words and meaningless symbols. In terms of the development of N1 specialization, there are hints of a U shaped curve, with 2nd graders displaying even greater word/symbol differences than adults.

* Amplitudes in general were bigger in the second graders, but the difference held when amplitudes were normalized between children and adults

Maurer U, Brem S, Kranz F, Bucher K, Benz R, Halder P, Steinhausen HC, & Brandeis D (2006). Coarse neural tuning for print peaks when children learn to read. NeuroImage, 33 (2), 749-58 PMID: 16920367


The N1 Component in Prereading Children

Friday, April 8, 2011

Accessibility: Intermediate-Advanced

Just to recap from the last article, the N170 is an ERP component that differentiates between words and symbol strings in normal reading adults. This the specialization developed after learning to read, or does it have something to do with the visual properties of symbols?

Maurer and colleagues tested pre-reading kindergartners to see whether the specialization is there before they learn to read. They had kids perform the same task as adults (looking at a series of words, pseudowords, symbol strings, and pictures).

They found several things:

1. Adults again had the same N170 (called N1 in this paper), which was stronger for words than symbols.

2. Kids also had an N1, but it was later, had a larger amplitude, and most importantly, did not distinguish between words and symbols, suggesting that this N1 specialization stems from experience with words.

3. Some of the kids, the ones with high letter knowledge, did have an N1 that differentiated between letters and symbols. However, the pattern was different from adults. While adults had the strongest effect on the left side of the brain, these children showed an effect on the right side.

So in conclusion, the N1 specialization seems to be related to reading. However, there seem to be some intermediate steps in the development of the specialization. At least in an early stage, the right hemisphere is involved, and then the processing becomes more left lateralized.

Maurer U, Brem S, Bucher K, & Brandeis D (2005). Emerging neurophysiological specialization for letter strings. Journal of cognitive neuroscience, 17 (10), 1532-52 PMID: 16269095


Introduction to the N170 Response to Words

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Accessibility:  Intermediate-Advanced

This month is N170 month. I'm going to be going through a bunch of papers by Urs Maurer on the N170 ERP component and how it relates to word processing. EEG is not my specialty, so hopefully I won't mess anything up.

For this post, we'll start with the basics. The N170 is an ERP component measured in EEG experiments. The N means that it is a negative potential, and the 170 means that it peaks roughly at around 170 ms, although the timing can vary. The N170 tends to be elicited by certain categories of visual images (like faces), and is enhanced for categories for which the subject has some expertise (for example, enhanced N170 response for bird experts when viewing birds).

This last characteristic makes the N170 helpful for studying word processing. Urs Maurer and colleagues tested adults by showing them words, pseudowords, and symbol strings*. The adults showed a greater N170 to words than symbol strings, which would be consistent with an expertise for words acquired over years of reading. The N170 was also more left lateralized for words than to symbol strings, which is not surprising given the general left lateralization of language. Also, the N170 seems to be stronger over the inferior occipital temporal channels, close to the visual word form area.

So those are the basics for the N170 in normal reading adults. It's a useful tool for studying word processing in populations like children and people with dyslexia, so that is where we will continue.

*the task was to detect repetitions

Maurer U, Brandeis D, & McCandliss BD (2005). Fast, visual specialization for reading in English revealed by the topography of the N170 ERP response. Behavioral and brain functions : BBF, 1 PMID: 16091138


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