Automaticity in the reading circuitry

Brain Lang. 2021 Mar;214:104906. doi: 10.1016/j.bandl.2020.104906. Epub 2021 Jan 27.


Skilled reading requires years of practice associating visual symbols with speech sounds. Over the course of the learning process, this association becomes effortless and automatic. Here we test whether automatic activation of spoken-language circuits in response to visual words is a hallmark of skilled reading. Magnetoencephalography was used to measure word-selective responses under multiple cognitive tasks (N = 42, 7-12 years of age). Even when attention was drawn away from the words by performing an attention-demanding fixation task, strong word-selective responses were found in a language region (i.e., superior temporal gyrus) starting at ~300 ms after stimulus onset. Critically, this automatic word-selective response was indicative of reading skill: the magnitude of word-selective responses correlated with individual reading skill. Our results suggest that automatic recruitment of spoken-language circuits is a hallmark of skilled reading; with practice, reading becomes effortless as the brain learns to automatically translate letters into sounds and meaning.

Keywords: Automaticity; Dyslexia; MEG; Reading.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Phonetics*
  • Reading*