Wednesday, November 6, 2019
1:00–2:30 p.m.


Swirbul Library, Room 5S

Sensitivity of the Superior Temporal Cortex to Phonological Grain Size in Speech is Related to Reading Skill

Previous research established that a core issue underlying reading disability (i.e., dyslexia) is lack of engagement of a region in the brain responsible for mapping between speech sounds (phonemes) and graphemes (letters). Difficulty mapping between the visual and auditory modalities results poor decoding skill (i.e., sounding out words letter by letter) and leads to slow, inaccurate reading, and consequently, deficits in reading comprehension. Interestingly, there is a foundational pre-reading skill known as phonological awareness (PA) that appears to play a critical role in decoding skill. Since PA includes skills like segmenting spoken words into smaller units such as first and last sound or rhymes, the ability to isolate sounds and segment words likely provides auditory skills upon which reading skills are built. Young children who have difficulty with PA often develop difficulty with mapping between sounds and letters and intervention targeting PA leads to improved reading. But it is currently unclear if and how deficits in PA may lead to mapping deficits in reading. Previous imaging studies of individuals with dyslexia reveal weaker or absent activation of the left parietal lobule, an area of the brain responsible for integration of sound and sight. It is unknown how activation of brain regions involved in speech sound processing may support PA and reading skill. This talk will focus on the relationship between PA skill and reading with a specific emphasis on a recent study that used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in typical adults to determine if the organization for processing speech sounds is sensitive to phonological information. We were specifically interested in phonological grain size, which is the count of phonemes in a word or word segment. We asked if organization in the auditory cortex was sensitive to phonological grain size and if so, whether this organization was related to reading skill. Results and future directions will be discussed.

About the Speaker

Christine Brennan, PhD CCC-SLP, is an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Boulder in the department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences. She is a speech-language pathologist and developmental cognitive neuroscientist interested in investigating the brain systems supporting language development and speech processing. Her work bridges communication sciences and disorders, cognitive science, and educational neuroscience with applications to basic and applied research in the fields of speech-language pathology and education. Dr. Brennan is the director of the ANCAR Lab (Applied Neuroscience for Communication and Reading) at the University of Colorado Boulder. Recent work conducted by Dr. Brennan focused on how the auditory cortex encodes phonemes, how it synthesizes phonemes into words, and how these processes are affected by experience. Dr. Brennan’s current research aims to improve our understanding of how the organization of the auditory cortex for phonological information may differ in children with and without language-based learning disabilities in which phonological skill is implicated, including dyslexia. Her research projects utilize standardized behavioral measures, experimental tasks, and functional neuroimaging (fMRI). She is a member of the Institute of Cognitive Science (ICS) and the Intermountain Neuroimaging Consortium (INC) at the University of Colorado Boulder. Dr. Brennan currently teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in speech and hearing sciences. She earned her BA from Southern Connecticut State University and her MA and PhD from Northwestern University.


This event is free and open to the public. Registration is helpful, but not required.
Please RSVP by filling out the form below.

For further information, please contact: 

Dominic Fareri
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