Three-year-olds Hemodynamic Brain Responses in an Object-viewing-listening-naming Paradigm
Neuroimaging studies in adults provided converging evidence for specialized brain regions that are involved in object recognition and language-related tasks [1, 2]. Since it is challenging to employ neuroimaging methods in young children, previous studies investigated this question in school-aged participants only , which left open the question of how these brain areas are developing. The aim of the present study is to examine this question and reveal which brain regions play a fundamental role in visual object recognition, comprehension of object labels, and production of object labels in 3-year-old children. To address this, we use functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to record participants’ hemodynamic response during an object-viewing-listening-naming paradigm. Across all three tasks, children are presented with images of real-world entities from two subcategories: animals and household objects. The viewing task comprises silently looking at the images, the listening task looking at the images and listening to the respective object labels, and the naming task requires naming of the images. As control stimuli, we are using the scrambled versions of the images in the viewing and naming task, and scrambled images paired with rotated, incomprehensible speech in the listening task to differentiate between the representation of low-level and high-level information processing. We predict that the lateral occipital cortex will activate for object perception , left-lateralized language regions, including frontal and temporal cortices for the comprehension task, and a larger contribution of prefrontal, frontal, and temporal language regions for production compared to comprehension task [2, 3]. By localizing brain regions involved in low-level and high-level visual processing, auditory perception, and speech production in 3-year-old children, we aim to provide valuable insights about shared and specialized neurocognitive resources for speech-related processes in the developing brain. Understanding the neural background of the development of language production and comprehension has important implications for basic and applied science, thus, our results can be relevant for language research, education, and therapeutic interventions.
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 L. Menenti, S. M. E. Gierhan, K. Segaert, and P. Hagoort, "Shared Language: Overlap and Segregation of the Neuronal Infrastructure for Speaking and Listening Revealed by Functional MRI," Psychological Science, vol. 22, no. 9, pp. 1173–1182, 2011.
 F. Stephan, H. Saalbach, and S. Rossi, "Inner versus Overt Speech Production: Does This Make a Difference in the Developing Brain?," Brain Sciences, vol. 10, no. 12, p. 939, 2020.