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

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HighlightsCompared visual word form area (VWFA) activation in children ages 7–14 vs. adults.Children showed adult-like sensitivity to words vs. faces in VWFA.Children did not show adult-like specificity in activation for words vs. nameable objects.Developmental specialization of VWFA extends into at least early adolescence.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.

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