Skip to main content

Neural pathways of phonological and semantic processing and its relations to children's reading skills


Wagley NNeelima , Booth JRJames R . Frontiers in neuroscience. 2022 10 12; 16(). 984328


Behavioral research shows that children’s phonological ability is strongly associated with better word reading skills, whereas semantic knowledge is strongly related to better reading comprehension. However, most neuroscience research has investigated how brain activation during phonological and semantic processing is related to word reading skill. This study examines if connectivity during phonological processing in the dorsal inferior frontal gyrus (dIFG) to posterior superior temporal gyrus (pSTG) pathway is related to word reading skill, whereas connectivity during semantic processing in the ventral inferior frontal gyrus (vIFG) to posterior middle temporal gyrus (pMTG) pathway is related to reading comprehension skill. We used behavioral and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data from a publicly accessible dataset on The research hypotheses and analytical plan were pre-registered on the Open Science Framework. Forty-six children ages 8-15 years old were included in the final analyses. Participants completed an in-scanner reading task tapping into phonology (i.e., word rhyming) and semantics (i.e., word meaning) as well as standardized measures of word reading and reading comprehension skill. In a series of registered and exploratory analyses, we correlated connectivity coefficients from generalized psychophysiological interactions (gPPI) with behavioral measures and used -scores to test the equality of two correlation coefficients. Results from the preregistered and exploratory analyses indicated weak evidence that functional connectivity of dIFG to pSTG during phonological processing is positively correlated with better word reading skill, but no evidence that connectivity in the vIFG-pMTG pathway during semantic processing is related to better reading comprehension skill. Moreover, there was no evidence to support the differentiation between the dorsal pathway’s relation to word reading and the ventral pathway’s relation to reading comprehension skills. Our finding suggesting the importance of phonological processing to word reading is in line with prior behavioral and neurodevelopmental models.