Gender and differing rates of brain activity influence the level of reading and language skills for boys and girls

October 18, 2001

Pittsburgh, Pa. -- Coherence of the EEG (electroencephalogram) or electrical waves generated by the brain is a derived measure of wave similarity at two spatially separated brain sites. This measure serves as an indirect measure of functional connections throughout the brain. When examined over three-month time periods, coherence oscillations (peaks and valleys) reflect changes in functional connects between paired brain sites, independent of whether the changes are caused by genetic or environmental conditions.

The current study has investigated the emerging connectivity of neural networks associated with phonological processing, verbal fluency, higher-level thinking and word retrieval, all skills needed for beginning reading in boys and girls over a specified period of time.

The author of the current, ongoing study, "Gender Differences Observed in Preschoolers' Emerging Neural Networks" is Harriet Hanlon, Ph.D., associated with Virginia Polytechnic and State University, located in Falls Church, Va. Their findings are being presented at Genomes and Hormones: An Integrative Approach to Gender Differences in Physiology, an American Physiological Society (APS) conference being held October 17-20, 2001, at the Westin Convention Center, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Dr. Hanlon's research adds to her previous research study, "Gender Differences in the Development of EEG Coherence in Normal Children," co-authored with Robert W. Thatcher Ph.D., and Marvin J. Cline Ph.D. The research findings in that cross-sectional study concluded that males and females develop anatomical brain regions for known functional tasks on different time schedules. Since these changes appear in many brain regions around age seven and 11 years, the authors assumed that boys and girls each have specific functional goals that must be met in each period. That study appeared in Developmental Neuropsychology, 16(3), 479-506.

Methodology
Gender differences in functional connections among large-scale brain networks involved in language processing were assessed for six language tasks in 15 preschoolers over a 12-month period.

Language tasks were: rapid autonomic naming (verbal fluency measure); digit processing (central auditory processing measure); orthographic patterns and letters (higher level thinking measure); word retrieval (expressive vocabulary measure); phonological processing (short-term auditory memory and expressive auditory measure); and vocabulary knowledge (memory storage measure). Data were collected five times, within two weeks of control EEG acquisition.

Results
In both boys and girls the language ability improved during a phase of increased connections (EEG coherence growth phase). Language ability decreased or remained at a plateau during a phase of decreased connections (EEG coherence pruning stage). Rates and times for growth and pruning cycles for the same brain networks were different in boys and girls.

The author suggests that parents should be aware that each sex has an advantage in preschool and kindergarten that they bring to learning to read. Boys favor vocabulary sub-skills needed for comprehension while girls favor fluency and phonic sub-skills needed for the mechanics of reading. A balanced language program should include phonics instruction and more challenging materials read by adults. Brain growth rates for specific sub-skills may differ, but the sexes by grade 3 have neural networks that support each mastering reading.
-end-
The American Physiological Society (APS) was founded in 1887 to foster basic and applied science, much of it relating to human health. The Bethesda, MD-based Society has more than 10,000 members and publishes 3,800 articles in its 14 peer-reviewed journals every year.

***

Contact: Donna Krupa:
703.527.7357
Cell: 703.967.2751 or
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Or at The APS Newsroom @
The Westin Convention Center
Pittsburgh, PA
October 17-20, 2001
Tel: 412.281.3700 (The Crawford Room)

American Physiological Society

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