Development of sensitivity versus specificity for print in the visual word form area

Brain Lang. 2017 Jul;170:62-70. doi: 10.1016/j.bandl.2017.03.009. Epub 2017 Apr 12.


An area near the left lateral occipito-temporal sulcus that responds preferentially to print has been designated as the visual word form area (VWFA). Research suggests that specialization in this brain region increases as reading expertise is achieved. Here we aimed to characterize that development in terms of sensitivity (response to printed words relative to non-linguistic faces) versus specificity (response to printed words versus line drawings of nameable objects) in typically reading children ages 7-14 versus young adults as measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Relative to adults, children displayed equivalent sensitivity but reduced specificity. These findings suggest that sensitivity for print relative to non-linguistic stimuli develops relatively early in the VWFA in the course of reading development, but that specificity for printed words in VWFA is still developing through at least age 14.

Keywords: Development; Lateralization; Reading; Sensitivity; Specificity; Text; VWFA; Visual; fMRI.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Child
  • Face
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language Development*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Printing*
  • Reading*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology
  • Young Adult