Shared Reading Quality and Brain Activation during Story Listening in Preschool-Age Children

J Pediatr. 2017 Dec;191:204-211.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2017.08.037.


Objective: To explore the relationship between maternal shared reading quality (verbal interactivity and engagement) and brain function during story listening in at-risk, preschool-age children, in the context of behavioral evidence and American Academy of Pediatrics, recommendations.

Study design: In this cross-sectional study, 22 healthy, 4-year-old girls from low socioeconomic status households completed functional magnetic resonance imaging using an established story listening task, followed by videotaped observation of uncoached mother-daughter reading of the same, age-appropriate picture book. Shared reading quality was independently scored applying dialogic reading and other evidence-based criteria reflecting interactivity and engagement, and applied as a predictor of neural activation during the functional magnetic resonance imaging task, controlling for income and maternal education.

Results: Shared reading quality scores were generally low and negatively correlated with maternal distraction by smartphones (P < .05). Scores were positively correlated with activation in left-sided brain areas supporting expressive and complex language, social-emotional integration, and working memory (P <.05, false discovery rate corrected).

Conclusions: Maternal shared reading quality is positively correlated with brain activation supporting complex language, executive function, and social-emotional processing in at-risk, preschool-age children. These findings represent novel neural biomarkers of how this modifiable aspect of home reading environment may influence foundational emergent literacy skills, reinforce behavioral evidence and American Academy of Pediatrics, recommendations, and underscore the potential of dialogic reading interventions to promote healthy brain development, especially in at-risk households.

Keywords: dialogic reading; early brain development; emergent literacy; functional MRI; home reading environment; language networks; parent-child engagement; shared reading; social-emotional processing; story listening.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Functional Neuroimaging*
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Literacy
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Maternal Behavior*
  • Mother-Child Relations / psychology*
  • Reading*
  • Social Class
  • Verbal Behavior / physiology*