Before television sets became commonplace in American homes, parents took the time to read to their kids, rather than plopping them down in front of the boob tube to entertain them. However, reading to a child can be much more beneficial to a child’s cognitive development A new study examined the benefits of reading to preschoolers to stimulate the growth of their developing brain. The study was published online on August 10 in the journal Pediatrics by researchers at Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio; and New York University School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital Center, New York, New York.
The study authors note that parent-child reading is widely promoted to improve cognitive development’ furthermore, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that this activity should begin at birth. They explain that parent-child reading has been shown in behavioral studies to improve language skills in regard to both reading and speaking; however, to date, measurable effects on the brain have not been evaluated. Therefore, the researchers conducted a study using blood oxygen level–dependent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess the relationship between home reading environment and brain activity.
The study group comprised 19 children, three to five years of age who listened to a story while their brain activity was measured with fMRI. The investigators theorized that, while listening to stories, children with greater home reading exposure would be found to have higher activation of left-sided brain regions involved with semantic processing (comprehension of the meaning of the spoken words).
Al the subjects underwent blood oxygen level–dependent fMRI while engaging in an age-appropriate story listening task in which narration alternated with tones. The researchers conducted a series of whole-brain analyses of the children’s cognitive function as measured by the StimQ-P Reading subscale score. The researchers found that higher reading exposure via the StimQ-P Reading subscale score positively correlated with activation of neurons (nerve cells) in the left-sided parietal-temporal-occipital association cortex, which is a “hub” region involved in semantic language processing.
The authors concluded that preschool children who listened to stories and had increased home reading exposure were found to have activation of brain areas supporting mental imagery and narrative comprehension. They noted that these neural biomarkers may improve the development of literacy.