Reading skill related to left ventral occipitotemporal cortex during a phonological awareness task in 5-6-year old children
The left ventral occipitotemporal cortex (vOT) is important in visual word recognition. Studies have shown that the left vOT is generally observed to be involved in spoken language processing in skilled readers, suggesting automatic access to corresponding orthographic information. However, little is known about where and how the left vOT is involved in the spoken language processing of young children with emerging reading ability. In order to answer this question, we examined the relation of reading ability in 5-6-year-old kindergarteners to the activation of vOT during an auditory phonological awareness task. Two experimental conditions: onset word pairs that shared the first phoneme and rhyme word pairs that shared the final biphone/triphone, were compared to allow a measurement of vOT’s activation to small (i.e., onsets) and large grain sizes (i.e., rhymes). We found that higher reading ability was associated with better accuracy of the onset, but not the rhyme, condition. In addition, higher reading ability was only associated with greater sensitivity in the posterior left vOT for the contrast of the onset versus rhyme condition. These results suggest that acquisition of reading results in greater specialization of the posterior vOT to smaller rather than larger grain sizes in young children.