Neurobiology of Beat Synchronization: Impact on Pre-School Language Development

Project: Research project

Project Details


Reading disorders affect 5-10% of children and carry devastating lifelong consequences for learning, educational attainment, and economic standing. Considerable resources have therefore been dedicated to understanding the biological and cognitive architectures that support reading development. As a part of this effort, an intriguing link between an individual’s reading and rhythmic synchronization abilities has been discovered. It is thought that rhythmic sensitivity cues a listener into syllabic stress and prosodic patterns in speech; these representations come to bear when a child begins reading, and impoverished processing of syllabic level information impedes reading development.

To date, however, all evidence of the rhythm-reading link has been observed in children of school age or older—that is, individuals who have developed their reading skills. Therefore, the idea that rhythmic sensitivity supports reading development remains conjecture. We aim to fill this research gap by exploring the link the rhythm-reading link—and its neural foundations—in children who are just starting to read. By understanding the rhythm-reading link in pre-readers, we can pinpoint the role rhythmic synchronization plays in language development. We have developed a suite of rhythmic and biological measures for use in adults that we will adapt to pre-schoolers. These measures break down rhythmic ability into subcomponents (synchronization to a metronome, remembering rhythmic patterns, perceiving the beat of complex stimuli) that can be mapped to facets of auditory processing (for example, neural tracking amplitude modulations v. frequency modulations) and pre-reading skills (phonology, memory, rapid naming, etc.). A deep and fine-grained understanding of which pre-reading skills track with rhythmic ability, and their common underlying neural mechanisms, will allow for the design of targeted interventions on an individual level for young children exhibiting delays in reading and/or language development.
Effective start/end date12/4/1412/3/18


  • Charles A. Dana Foundation, Inc. (AGMT-2/17/15)


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