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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Developmental Science
Title of proceedings Developmental Science
DOI 10.1111/desc.12189


During reading acquisition children learn to recognize orthographic stimuli and link them to phonology and semantics. The present study investigated neurocognitive processes of learning to read after one year of schooling. We aimed to elucidate the cognitive processes underlying neural tuning for print that has been shown to play an important role for reading and dyslexia. A 128-channel EEG was recorded while 68 (Swiss-)German monolingual first grade children (mean age: 7.6) performed a one-back task with different types of letter and false-font strings. Print tuning was indexed by the N1 difference in the ERPs between German words and false-font strings, while the N1 lexicality effect was indexed by the difference between German words and pseudowords. In addition, we measured reading fluency, rapid automatized naming, phonological awareness, auditory memory span, and vocabulary. After one year of formal reading instruction N1 print tuning was clearly present at the group level, and could be detected at the individual level in almost 90% of the children. The N1 lexicality effect, however, could not be reliably found. On the cognitive level, next to word-reading fluency, vocabulary was also associated with N1 print tuning, but not measures reflecting phonological processing. These results demonstrate the presence of print tuning in the first year of reading acquisition and its development at the individual level. Moreover, individual differences in print tuning are not only related to word-reading fluency, but also to semantic knowledge, indicating that at early stages of learning to read the top-down modulation of print tuning is semantic rather than phonological in nature.