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Individual Differences in the Neural Code for Reading

The ability to read relies on complex cognitive operations, both the mappings of spelling to sound representations and spelling to meaning. While all readers rely on both these operations, some researchers have proposed that individuals differ in how much they depend on each reading route. The current proposal addresses individual differences in reading style by relating individual differences in the pattern of brain activity elicited by written words to behavioral measures of how people read different types of stimuli. Specifically, cutting edge techniques for analyzing neuroimaging data are currently being developed at Rice – both in the Statistics and Psychology Departments – in order to (1) cluster individuals based on spatial and temporal characteristics of their patterns of brain activity in a reading task (2) relate these group differences in patterns of brain activity to differences in performance on a battery of tasks designed to probe spelling to sound and spelling to meaning mappings and (3) decode the information being processed in the regions of the reading network that differ between the two groups. Understanding the heterogeneity in how neurotypical individuals read words has clear consequences for understanding how we learn to read and the disorders that can occur which prevent people from reading normally.