Neural Correlates of Language Production and Comprehension in Three Year Olds


  • Flavia Ifeoma-Viktoria Nwankwo University of Vienna



The neural correlates of language comprehension and production have been widely discussed topics in children. General language abilities in small children as well as the extent to which children’s abilities in word production and comprehension, have also been widely discussed topics in Linguistics across many points of child development. Previous studies explored the neural activation patterns of the two language abilities in children [1]. However, the understanding of the neural correlates and fundamental basis of overlap between these abilities in children’s brains is not as well known. The overlap in neural networks across language capabilities has already been studied in adults. Specific abilities such as planning and motor functions have been observed to use some of the same neural resources in the prefrontal cortex and are also viewed to have substantial overlap in resources in the temporal regions of the brain [2]. 


The current study aims to examine the differences between language comprehension and word production in three-year-olds and to what degree specific neural networks overlap in the brain. We hypothesize that three-year-old children will already show some degree of activation overlap in neural resources and temporal regions between both modalities of language comprehension and word production. However, not to the extent that adults have shown overlap. The project will incorporate functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) methods which will measure blood oxygenation changes in the brain which is similar to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) [3]. Participants will undergo audiovisual tasks for language comprehension, which contains a regular condition with visual and auditory stimuli, while the scrambled condition contains scrambled visual and auditory stimuli. A picture naming task will be done for the word production condition, which entails the participants to give responses by naming the object in the picture. The stimuli are age-appropriate for three-year-olds to be able to understand. For data processing, Matlab with the Homer2 plugin will be used as well as R programming for statistical analysis. We expect to see specific brain areas related to word production and language comprehension be activated during these tasks as well as some overlap in these regions.


[1] S . Krishnan, R. Leech, E. Mercure, S. Lloyd-Fox and F. Dick, “Convergent and Divergent fMRI Responses in Children and Adults to Increasing Language Production Demands, ”Cerebral Cortex vol. 25 no. 10 pp. 3261 - 3277, 2015
[2] P. Indefrey and W.J.M. Levelt, “The spatial and temporal signatures of word production components,” Towards a New Functional Anatomy of Language vol. 92 no. 1, pp. 101 - 144, 2004
[3] R.N.  Aslin, M. Shukla and L.L. Emberson, “Hemodynamic Correlates of Cognition in Human Infants,” Journal vol. 66 pp. 349 - 379, 2015