Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience
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Previous studies have shown that reading skill in 3- to 6-year-old children is related to the automatic activation of the posterior left ventral occipitotemporal cortex (vOT) during spoken language processing, whereas 8- to 15-year-old children and adult readers activate the anterior vOT. However, it is unknown how children who are between these two age groups automatically activate orthographic representations in vOT for spoken language. In the current study, we recruited 153 7- to 8-year-old children to fill the age gap from previous studies. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we measured children's reading-related skills and brain activity during an auditory phonological task with both a small (i.e. onset) and a large (i.e. rhyme) grain size condition. We found that letter fluency, but not reading accuracy, was correlated with activation in the anterior vOT for the rhyme condition. There were no reading-related skill correlations for the posterior vOT or for activation during the onset condition in this age group. Our findings reveal that automatic activation in the anterior vOT during spoken language processing already occurs in higher skilled 7- to 8-year-old children. In addition, increases in naming automaticity is the primary determinant of the engagement of vOT during phonological awareness tasks.