Will you read how I will read? Naturalistic fMRI predictors of emergent reading

Elizabeth K. Wat, David C. Jangraw, Emily S. Finn, Peter A. Bandettini, Jonathan L. Preston, Nicole Landi, Fumiko Hoeft, Stephen J. Frost, Airey Lau, Gang Chen, Kenneth R. Pugh, Peter J. Molfese

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite reading being an essential and almost universal skill in the developed world, reading proficiency varies substantially from person to person. To study why, the fMRI field is beginning to turn from single-word or nonword reading tasks to naturalistic stimuli like connected text and listening to stories. To study reading development in children just beginning to read, listening to stories is an appropriate paradigm because speech perception and phonological processing are important for, and are predictors of, reading proficiency. Our study examined the relationship between behavioral reading-related skills and the neural response to listening to stories in the fMRI environment. Functional MRI were gathered in a 3T TIM-Trio scanner. During the fMRI scan, children aged approximately 7 years listened to professionally narrated common short stories and answered comprehension questions following the narration. Analyses of the data used inter-subject correlation (ISC), and representational similarity analysis (RSA). Our primary finding is that ISC reveals areas of increased synchrony in both high- and low-performing emergent readers previously implicated in reading ability/disability. Of particular interest are that several previously identified brain regions (medial temporal gyrus (MTG), inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), inferior temporal gyrus (ITG)) were found to “synchronize” across higher reading ability participants, while lower reading ability participants had idiosyncratic activation patterns in these regions. Additionally, two regions (superior frontal gyrus (SFG) and another portion of ITG) were recruited by all participants, but their specific timecourse of activation depended on reading performance. These analyses support the idea that different brain regions involved in reading follow different developmental trajectories that correlate with reading proficiency on a spectrum rather than the usual dichotomy of poor readers versus strong readers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number108763
StatePublished - Jan 29 2024


  • Development
  • Emergent reading
  • fMRI
  • Naturalistic
  • Reading

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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