Researchers find brain activity related to individual differences in reading comprehension

November 6, 2013

What makes a good reader? First, you have to know how to read the words on a page and understand them—but there's a higher-level step to reading comprehension. You have to tie together the words over time, maintaining their order and meaning in your memory, so that you can understand phrases, sentences, paragraphs and extended texts.

Northwestern University researchers were interested in exploring the underlying this higher-level integration step. Through the use of an EEG to measure brainwaves, they were able to predict with almost 90 percent accuracy based on the brain activity differences between ordered and scrambled story texts.

Participants read two versions of a long text presented one word at a time on a computer monitor. One version was in the original order of the story, the other version was in a scrambled order. In each case, participants read the words in order to perform a word-finding task. However, only in the ordered version of the story were they also asked to comprehend the story in preparation for a comprehension test.

The researchers figured that for people who read each word in the ordered version of the story and tried to tie the words together to form a story but didn't comprehend the story well, their brain activity would not differ much between the two versions of the story. Good comprehenders, on the other hand, should show distinctly different brain activity when they were successfully tying together and remembering the story in the ordered version versus when the words were scrambled.

"We used a computational algorithm called a random-forest ensemble to identify neural activity that differentiated good from poor reading comprehenders. This activity was focused at EEG electrodes toward the front of the head," said Julia Mossbridge, lead author of the study and research associate in psychology at Northwestern.

Previous research in this area has examined the brain activity surrounding comprehension of sentences and short passages. Consequently, the most significant finding of the study, Mossbridge said, is that she and her colleagues have developed a method, using longer texts, to get to the integration process in reading comprehension.

"Individuals with reading comprehension deficits in the absence of other reading deficits are almost surely lacking in this higher-level integration skill of tying the words together and maintaining the integrated meaning over time," Mossbridge said. "We hope that our novel paradigm and the result showing the for differentiating good from poor comprehenders could potentially be used to help diagnose and eventually treat reading disorders."

In addition to Mossbridge, co-authors include Marcia Grabowecky, Ken A. Paller and Satoru Suzuki of Northwestern. The article "Neural activity tied to reading predicts individual differences in extended-text " will appear in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Explore further: E-readers more effective than paper for dyslexic readers

Related Stories

E-readers more effective than paper for dyslexic readers

September 18, 2013
As e-readers grow in popularity as convenient alternatives to traditional books, researchers at the Smithsonian have found that convenience may not be their only benefit. The team discovered that when e-readers are set up ...

Getting your message across

July 16, 2012
Far from processing every word we read or hear, our brains often do not even notice key words that can change the whole meaning of a sentence, according to new research from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Recommended for you

Offbeat brain rhythms during sleep make older adults forget

December 15, 2017
Like swinging a tennis racket during a ball toss to serve an ace, slow and speedy brainwaves during deep sleep must sync up at exactly the right moment to hit the save button on new memories, according to new UC Berkeley ...

Study finds graspable objects grab attention more than images of objects do

December 15, 2017
Does having the potential to act upon an object have a unique influence on behavior and brain responses to the object? That is the question Jacqueline Snow, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno, ...

Little understood cell helps mice see color

December 14, 2017
Researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have discovered that color vision in mice is far more complex than originally thought, opening the door to experiments that could potentially lead to new treatments ...

Scientists chart how brain signals connect to neurons

December 14, 2017
Scientists at Johns Hopkins have used supercomputers to create an atomic scale map that tracks how the signaling chemical glutamate binds to a neuron in the brain. The findings, say the scientists, shed light on the dynamic ...

Journaling inspires altruism through an attitude of gratitude

December 14, 2017
Gratitude does more than help maintain good health. New research at the University of Oregon finds that regularly noting feelings of gratitude in a journal leads to increased altruism.

Activating MSc glutamatergic neurons found to cause mice to eat less

December 13, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A trio of researchers working at the State University of New York has found that artificially stimulating neurons that exist in the medial septal complex in mouse brains caused test mice to eat less. In ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.