The processing of prosody: Evidence of interhemispheric specialization at the age of four

Neuroimage. 2007 Jan 1;34(1):416-25. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2006.09.009. Epub 2006 Oct 20.


Beyond its multiple functions in language comprehension and emotional shaping, prosodic cues play a pivotal role for the infant's amazingly rapid acquisition of language. However, cortical correlates of prosodic processing are largely controversial, even in adults, and functional imaging data in children are sparse. We here use an approach which allows to experimentally determine brain activations correlating to the perception and processing of sentence prosody during childhood. In 4-year-olds, we measured focal brain activation using near-infrared spectroscopy and demonstrate that processing prosody in isolation elicits a larger right fronto-temporal activation whereas a larger left hemispheric activation is elicited by the perception of normal language with full linguistic content. Hypothesized by the dual-pathway-model, the present data provide experimental evidence that in children specific language processes rely on interhemispheric specialization with a left hemispheric dominance for processing segmental (i.e. phonological) and a right hemispheric dominance for processing suprasegmental (i.e. prosodic) information. Generally in accordance with the imaging data reported in adults, our finding underlines the notion that interhemispheric specialization is a continuous process during the development of language.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Language Development*
  • Male
  • Speech Perception / physiology*