The N170 ERP component differs in laterality, distribution, and association with continuous reading measures for deaf and hearing readers

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The temporo-occipitally distributed N170 ERP component is hypothesized to reflect print-tuning in skilled readers. This study investigated whether skilled deaf and hearing readers (matched on reading ability, but not phonological awareness) exhibit similar N170 patterns, given their distinct experiences learning to read. Thirty-two deaf and 32 hearing adults viewed words and symbol strings in a familiarity judgment task. In the N170 epoch (120–240 ms) hearing readers produced greater negativity for words than symbols at left hemisphere (LH) temporo-parietal and occipital sites, while deaf readers only showed this asymmetry at occipital sites. Linear mixed effects regression was used to examine the influence of continuous measures of reading, spelling, and phonological skills on the N170 (120–240 ms). For deaf readers, better reading ability was associated with a larger N170 over the right hemisphere (RH), but for hearing readers better reading ability was associated with a smaller RH N170. Better spelling ability was related to larger occipital N170s in deaf readers, but this relationship was weak in hearing readers. Better phonological awareness was associated with smaller N170s in the LH for hearing readers, but this association was weaker and in the RH for deaf readers. The results support the phonological mapping hypothesis for a left-lateralized temporo-parietal N170 in hearing readers and indicate that skilled reading is characterized by distinct patterns of neural tuning to print in deaf and hearing adults.

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