Neural competition as a developmental process: Early hemispheric specialization for word processing delays specialization for face processing

Su Li, Kang Lee, Jing Zhao, Zhi Yang, Sheng He, Xuchu Weng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Little is known about the impact of learning to read on early neural development for word processing and its collateral effects on neural development in non-word domains. Here, we examined the effect of early exposure to reading on neural responses to both word and face processing in preschool children with the use of the Event Related Potential (ERP) methodology. We specifically linked children's reading experience (indexed by their sight vocabulary) to two major neural markers: the amplitude differences between the left and right N170 on the bilateral posterior scalp sites and the hemispheric spectrum power differences in the γ band on the same scalp sites. The results showed that the left-lateralization of both the word N170 and the spectrum power in the γ band were significantly positively related to vocabulary. In contrast, vocabulary and the word left-lateralization both had a strong negative direct effect on the face right-lateralization. Also, vocabulary negatively correlated with the right-lateralized face spectrum power in the γ band even after the effects of age and the word spectrum power were partialled out. The present study provides direct evidence regarding the role of reading experience in the neural specialization of word and face processing above and beyond the effect of maturation. The present findings taken together suggest that the neural development of visual word processing competes with that of face processing before the process of neural specialization has been consolidated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)950-959
Number of pages10
Issue number5
StatePublished - Apr 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Project for Young Scientists Fund, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences ( 07CX112011 ); the National Science Foundation of China ( 31271109 , 31070905 ); the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada , and National Institutes of Health ( HD046526 ).


  • ERP
  • Face processing
  • Neural development
  • Visual word processing


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