We employed a visual rhyming priming paradigm to characterize the development of brain systems important for phonological processing in reading. We studied 109 right-handed, native English speakers within eight age groups: 7-8, 9-10, 11-12, 13-14, 15-16, 17-18, 19-20, and 21-23. Participants decided whether two written words (prime-target) rhymed (JUICE-MOOSE) or not (CHAIR-MOOSE). In similar studies of adults, two main event-related potential (ERP) effects have been described: a negative slow wave to primes, larger over anterior regions of the left hemisphere and hypothesized to index rehearsal of the primes, and a negative deflection to targets, peaking at 400-450 msec, maximal over right temporal-parietal regions, larger for nonrhyming than rhyming targets, and hypothesized to index phonological matching. In this study, these two ERP effects were observed in all age groups; however, the two effects showed different developmental timecourses. On the one hand, the frontal asymmetry to primes increased with age; moreover, this asymmetry was correlated with reading and spelling scores, even after controlling for age. On the other hand, the distribution and onset of the more posterior rhyming effect (RE) were stable across age groups, suggesting that phonological matching relied on similar neural systems across these ages. Behaviorally, both reaction times and accuracy improved with age. These results suggest that different aspects of phonological processing rely on different neural systems that have different developmental timecourses.

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