Neuroimaging and Reading Comprehension

  • Kyle Perkins Florida International University
  • Xuan Jiang Florida International University
Keywords: inverted U, reading networks, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), neurolinguistics.


In this position paper, we advocate that advancements made in other disciplinary areas such as neurolinguistics should be included into contemporary reading comprehension courses and programs.  We present findings from neurobiology of reading that suggest explanation of certain reading behaviors: (1) the differences between reading disability and typically developing readers; (2) an inverted U-shaped function that reflects the fact that learning to read is associated with increased activation (the rising part of the inverted U) and activation decreases are associated with familiarity, experience, and expertise (the falling part of the inverted U); (3) and, the identification of reading networks.  As potential pedagogical implications of neuroimaging studies to reading, a list of sentence structures is proposed as an example to further relate reading comprehension to cognitive capacity limits. 


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Kyle Perkins, Florida International University

KYLE PERKINS, PhD, is a retired professor of TESOL from the Department of Teaching and Learning at Florida International University.  His research interests are reading comprehension, language testing, instructional sensitivity, second language acquisition, and Rasch modeling. Email:

Xuan Jiang, Florida International University

XUAN JIANG, PhD, is an Assistant Director at the Center for Excellence in Writing at Florida International University. Her research interests include issues and strategies in academic writing, various instructional scaffoldings, interdisciplinary literacy, and transnationalism. Email:


Arrington, C. N., Malins, J. G., Winter, R., Mencl, W. E., Pugh, K. R., & Morris, R. (2019). Examining individual differences in reading and attentional control networks utilizing an oddball fMRI task. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 38, 100674.

Ausburg, T. (2006). Becoming interdisciplinary: An introduction to interdisciplinary studies (2nd ed.). New York: Kendall/Hunt Publishing.

Ben-Shachar, M., Hendler, T., Kahn, I., Ben-Bashat, D., & Grodzinsky, Y. (2003). The neural reality of syntactic transformations. Evidence from fMRI. Psychological Science, 14, 433-440.

Ben-Shachar, M., Palti, D., & Grodzinsky. Y. (2004). Neural correlates of syntactic movement: Converging evidence from two fMRI experiments. NeuroImage, 21, 1320-1336.

Berwick, R. C., & Weinberg, A. (1984). The grammatical basis of linguistic performance:Language use and acquisition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Blau, V., Reithler, J. van Atteveldt, N. M., Seitz, J., Gerretsen, P., Goebel, R. et al. (2010). Deviant processing of letters and speech sounds as proximate cause of reading failure: A functional magnetic resonance imaging study of dyslexic children. Brain, 133, 868-79.

Cao, F. (2016). Neuroimaging studies of reading in bilinguals. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 19(4), 683-688.

Caplan, D., Alpert, N., Waters, G., & Oliverieri, A. (2000). Activation of Broca’s area by syntactic processing under conditions of concurrent articulation. Human Brain Mapping, 9, 65-71.

Caplan, D., & Waters, G. S. (1999). Verbal working memory and sentence comprehension. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 22(2), 77-126.

Center for Functional MRI. (2019). What is fMRI? San Diego, CA: Department of Radiology, School of Medicine, University of California, San Diego. Retrieved from

Cohen, L., Dehaene, S., Naccache, L., Lehericy, S., Dehaene-Lambertz, G., Henaff, M. A., & Michel, F. (2000). The visual word form area: Spatial and temporal characterization of an initial state of reading in normal subject and posterior split-brain patients. Brain: A Journal of Neurology, 123(2), 291-307.

Constable, R. T., Pugh, K. R., Berroya, E., Mencl, W. E., Westerveld, M., Ni, W., &

Shankweiler, D. (2004). Sentence complexity and input modality effects in

sentence comprehension: An fMRI study. NeuroImage, 22, 11-21.

Cooke, A., Zurif, E. B., DeVita, C., Alsop, D., Koenig, P. Detre, J., … Grossman, M. (2001). Neural basis for sentence comprehension: Grammatical and short-term memory components. Human Brain Mapping, 15(2), 80-94.

Cowan, N. (2001). The magical number four in short-term memory: A reconsideration of mental storage capacity. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24, 87-185.

Dehaene, S., & Cohen, L. (2011). The unique role of the visual word form area in reading. Trends in Cognitive Science, 15(6), 254-62.

Demont, J.-F., Chollet, F., Ramsay, S., Cardebat, D., Nespolous, J.-L., Wise, R., et al. (1992). The anatomy of phonological and semantic processing in normal subjects. Brain, 115 (6), 1753-68.

Dunn, L. M., & Dunn, L. M. (1997). Peabody picture vocabulary test-revised. Circle Pines, MN:American Guidance Service.

Edwards, E. S., Burke, K., Booth, J. R., & McNorgan, C. (2018). Dyslexia on a continuum: A complex network approach. PLoS ONE 13(12): e0208923.

Eickhoff, S. B., Bzok, D., Laird, A. R., Kurth, F., & Fox, P. T. (2012). Activation likelihood estimation meta-analysis revisited. NeuroImage, 59, 2349-2361.

Fedorenko, E., Hsieh, P.-J., Niteo-Castanon, A., Whitfield-Gabrieli, S., & Kanwisher, N. (2010). New method for fMRI investigations of language: Defining ROIs functionally in individual subjects. Journal of Neurophysiology, 104, 1177-1194.

Feldon, D. F. (2010). Why magic bullets don’t work. Change, 42, 15-21.

Fletcher, J. M., Simos, P. G., Shaywitz, B. A., Shaywitz, S. E., Pugh, K. R., & Papanicdaou, A. C. (2000). Neuroimaging, language, and reading: The interface of brain and environment. Proceedings of a Research Symposium on High Standards in Reading for Students from Diverse Language Groups: Research, Practice & Policy (pp. 41-58). Washington, D.C.: US Department of Education, Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Language Affairs.

Friederici, A. D. (2011). The brain basis of language processing: From structure to function. Physiological Reviews, 91, 1357-1392.

Gullick, M. M., & Booth, J. R. (2014). Individual differences in crossmodal brain activity predict arcuate fasciculus connectivity in developing readers. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 26(7), 1331-46.

Hamburger, H., & Crain, S. (1984). Acquisition of cognitive coupling. Cognition, 17(2), 85-136.

Hasegawa, M., Carpenter, P. A., & Just, M. A. (2002). An fMRI study of bilingual sentence comprehension and workload. NeuroImage, 15, 647-660.

Heim, S., Wehnelt, A., Grande, M., Huber, W., & Amuts, K. (2013). Effects of lexicality and word frequency on brain activation in dyslexic readers. Brain & Language, 125(2), 194-202.

Herbster, A. N., Mintun, M. A., Nebes, R. D., & Becker, J. T. (1997). Regional cerebral blood flow during word and nonword reading. Human Brain Mapping, 5(2), 84-92.

Janssen, J., Kirshner, F., Erkens, G., Kirschner, P. A., & Paas, F. (2010). Making the black box of collaborative learning transparent: Combining process-oriented and cognitive load. Educational Psychological Review, 22, 139-154.

Jay, T. B. (2003). The psychology of language. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Just, M. A., & Carpenter, P. A. (1992). A capacity theory of comprehension: Individual differences in working memory. Psychological Reviews, 99, 122-149.

Just, M. A., Carpenter, P. A., Keller, T. A., Eddy, W. F., & Thulborn, K. R. (1996). Brain activation modulated by sentence comprehension. Science, 274, 114-116.

King, J., & Just, M. A. (1991). Individual differences in syntactic processing: The role of working memory. Journal of Memory and Language, 30, 580-602.

Lyon, R., Shaywitz, S. E., & Shaywitz, B. A. (2003). A definition of dyslexia. Annals of Dyslexia, 53(1), 1-14.

Maisog, J. M., Einbinder, E. R., Flowers, D. L., Turkeltaub, P. E., & Eden, G. F. (2008). A meta-analysis of functional neuroimaging studies of dyslexia. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1145(1), 237-259.

Mason, R. A., & Just, M. A. (2004). How the brain processes causal inferences in text. A theoretical account of generation and integration component processes utilizing both hemispheres. Psychological Science, 15(1), 1-7.

McCandliss, B. D., Cohen, L., & Dehaene, S. (2003). The visual word form area: Expertise for reading in the fusiform gyrus. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 7(7), 293-9.

Mei, L., Xue, G., Lu, Z. L., He, Q., Zhang, M., Xue, F., … & Dong, Q. (2013). Orthographic transparency modulates the functional asymmetry in the fusiform cortex: An artificial language study. Brain & Language, 125(2), 165-172.

Meltzer-Asscher, A., Mack, J. E., Barbieri, E., & Thompson, C. K. (2015). How the brain processes different dimensions of argument structure complexity: Evidence from fMRI. Brain & Language, 142, 65-75.

Meyler, A., Keller, T. A., Cherkassky, V. L., Lee, D., Hoeft, F., Whitfield-Gabrieli, S., ... & Just, M. A. (2007). Brain activation during sentence comprehension among good and poor readers. Cerebral Cortex, 17(12), 2780-2787.

Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. The Psychological Review, 63, 81-97.

Neville, H. J., Nicol, J. L., Barss, A., Forster, K. I., & Garrett, M. F. (1991). Syntactically based sentence processing classes: Evidence from event-related brain potentials. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 3, 151-165.

Ni, W., Shankweiler, D., & Crain, S. (1996). Individual differences in working memory and eye-movement patterns in reading relative clause structures. In K. Matsuoka & A. Halbert (Eds.). Papers in honor of Stephen Crain: Language acquisition and processing (57-82). Storrs, CT: Department of Linguistics, University of Connecticut.

Olulade, O. A., Flowers, D. L., Napoliello, E. M., & Eden, G. F. (2013). Developmental differences for word processing in the ventral stream. Brain & Language, 125, 134-145.

Paulesu, E., & Frith, U., Snowling, M., Gallagher, A., Morton, J., Frackowiak, R. S., et al. (1996). Is developmental dyslexia a disconnection syndrome? Evidence from PET scanning. Brain, 119(1), 143-57.

Poldrack, R. A., Wagner, A. D., Prull, M. W., Desmond, J. E., Glover, G. H., & Gabrieli, J. D. (1999). Functional specialization for semantic and phonological processing in the left inferior prefrontal cortex. NeuroImage, 10(1), 15-35.

Pollack, C., Luk, G., & Christodoulou, J. A. (2015). A meta-analysis of functional reading systems in typically developing and struggling readers across different alphabetic languages. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 191. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.201500191.

Price, C. J. (2013). Current themes in neuroimaging studies of reading. Brain & Language, 125(2), 131-133.

Price, C. J., & Devlin, J. T. (2011). The interactive account of ventral occipitotemporal contributions to reading. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 15(6), 246-253.

Pugh, K. R., Landi, N., Preston, J. L., Mencl, W. E., Austin, A. C., Sibley, D., ... & Molfese, P. (2013). The relationship between phonological and auditory processing and brain organization in beginning readers. Brain & Language, 125(2), 173-183.

Pugh, K. R., Mencl, W. E., Jenner, A. R., Katz, L., Frost, S. J., Lee, J. R., ... & Shaywitz, B. A. (2000). Functional neuroimaging studies of reading and reading disability (developmental dyslexia). Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, 6(3), 207-213.

Pugh, K. R., Mencl, W. E., Jenner, A. R., Katz, L., Frost, S. J., Lee, J. R., et al. (2001). Neurobiological studies of reading and reading disability. Journal of Communication Disorders, 34(6), 479-92.

Shapiro, L. P., Zurif, E., & Grimshaw, J. (1987). Sentence processing and the mental representation of verbs. Cognition, 27, 219-246.

Shaywitz, B. A., Shaywitz, S. E., Pugh, K. R., Mencl, W. E., Fulbright, R. K., Skudlarski, P., ... & Gore, J. C. (2002). Disruption of posterior brain systems for reading in children with developmental dyslexia. Biological Psychiatry, 52(2), 101-110.

Shaywitz, S. E., Shaywitz, B. A., Pugh, K. R., Fulbright, R. K., Constable, R. T., Mencl, W. E., et al. (1998). Functional disruption in the organization of the brain for reading in dyslexia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA, 95(5), 2636-41.

Shetreet, E., Palti, D., Friedmann, N., & Hadar, U. (2007). Cortical representation of verb processing in sentence comprehension: Number of complements, subcategorization, and thematic frames. Cerebral Cortex, 17, 1958-1969.

Snowling, M. J. (2000). Foundations of reading acquisition and dyslexia: Implication for early intervention. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 70(2), 275-276.

Stowe, L. A., & Sabourin, L. (2005). Imaging the processing of a second language: Effects of maturation and proficiency on the neural processes involved. International Review of Applied Linguistics, 43, 329-353.

Stowe, L. A., Tanenhaus, M. K., & Carlson, G. N. (1991). Filling gaps on-line: Use of lexical and semantic information in sentence processing. Language and Speech, 34(4), 319-340.

Sweller, J. (1988). Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects of learning. Cognitive Science, 12, 257-285.

Torgesen, J. K., Wagner, R. K., & Rashotte, C. A. (1999). Test of word reading efficiency. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

Twomey, T., Kawabata Duncan, K. J., Hogan, J. S., Morita, K., Umeda, K., Sakai, K., & Devlin, J. T. (2013). Dissociating visual form from lexical frequency using Japanese. Brain & Language, 125(2), 184-193.

van Atteveldt, N. M., Blau, V. C., Blomert, L., & Goebel, R. (2010). fMR-adaptation indicates selectivity to audiovisual content congruency in distributed clusters in human superior temporal cortex. BMC Neuroscience, 11(1), 1-11.

van Atteveldt, N. M., Formisano, E., Goebel, R., & Blomert, L. (2007). Top-down task effects overrule automatic multisensory response to letter-sound pairs in auditory association cortex. NeuroImage, 36(4), 1345-60.

Vellutino, F. R., Fletcher, J. M., Snowling, M. J., & Scanlon, D. M. (2004). Specific reading disability (dyslexia): What have we learned in the past four decades? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 45, 2-40.

Wartenburger, I., Heekeren, H. R., Burchert, F., Heinemann, S., De Bleser, R., & Villringer, A. (2004). Neural correlates of syntactic transformations. Human Brain Mapping, 22, 72-81.

Xu, B., Grafman, J., Gaillard, W. D., Ishii, K., Vega-Bermudez, F., Pietrini, P., ... & Theodore, W. (2001). Conjoint and extended neural networks for the computation of speech codes: The neural basis of selective impairment in reading words and pseudowords. Cerebral Cortex, 11(3), 267-277.

Zhu, Z. D., Feng, G., Zhang, J. X., Li, G., Li, H., & Wang, S. (2013). The role of the left prefrontal cortex in sentence-level semantic integration. NeuroImage, 76, 325-331.

Zhu, Z. D., Hagoort, P., Zhang, J. X., Feng, G. Y., Chen, H. C., Batiaansen, M., & Wang, S. P. (2012). The anterior left inferior frontal gyrus contributes to semantic unification. NeuroImage, 60(4), 2230-2237.

How to Cite
Perkins, K., & Jiang, X. (2019). Neuroimaging and Reading Comprehension. Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Education, 8(2), 74-94.