Early Literacy Research Library (ELRL) - Article

Maternal Reading Fluency is Positively Associated with Greater Functional Connectivity Between the Child’s Future Reading Network and Regions Related to Executive Functions and Language Processing in Preschool-Age Children

Horowitz-Kraus, T., Hutton, J.S., Phelan, K., Holland, S.K. (2018) Maternal Reading Fluency is Positively Associated with Greater Functional Connectivity between the Child’s Future Reading Network and Regions Related to Executive Functions and Language Processing in Preschool-Age Children. Brain and Cognition, 121, 17-23.,

Access: Institutional Access

Publication year


core topic(s)

Early Literacy , Shared Reading

Population Characteristics


Exposures, Outcomes, Other

Brain/Neurocognitive , Child Behaviors and Skills , Child Development (general) , Language and Literacy Development , Parent Behaviors and Skills


As shared parent–child reading is largely contingent on the reading ability of the parent, the aim of the current study was to explore association of parental reading ability on functional connectivity of brain networks involved with reading acquisition in their children.


Shared reading.

outcomes evaluated

Maternal reading and child's neural connectivity.


Twenty-two 4-year-old girls and their mothers participated in the current study. Maternal reading fluency was applied as predictors of functional connectivity analyses of a stories-listening functional MRI task.

sample size

n=22 (mother-daughter dyads)


Measure of Child’s Verbal and Non-Verbal IQ: Performance and Verbal subtests from WIPSSI; to exclude linguistic deficits, phonological awareness was assessed using the Ellison subtest from CTOPP.


Measures of Maternal Reading:

    • Ability: TOWRE site-word efficiency test (SWE).
    • Fluency: TOSREC Test.

Measure of Child’s Neural Networks: fMRI during stories-listening tasks.


Results indicate a positive association between maternal fluency scores and greater functional connectivity between regions in the future reading network and brain regions supporting language and cognitive control in the children.


Maternal reading fluency is important in facilitating development of a child’s reading network. Implications regarding shared reading are discussed, and an extended ecological model for child language and literacy development is proposed.


Although we discussed the reading level of the mothers participating in this study and the possibility of the use of lower-quality verbal stimulation during shared reading, we did not examine or quantify this aspect. A future study should examine the level of the use of utterance, comments, and prompts (as suggested in Hockenberger et al. (1999)) and determine the relationship between these measures. In addition, since the fMRI task used in the current study was a passive, stories-listening task and the children were relatively young, we did not assess comprehension of the stories presented during MRI, which may have been useful as a covariate in our analyses. We kept the fMRI stories-listening task as short as possible to avoid motion artifacts that can result from long scan times for young children, and our sample size was relatively modest. Therefore, our correlation analysis with the functional data did not survive the correction for multiple comparisons. A future study with an ongoing fMRI data during stories listening (not in an on-off design as was used in the current study) may provide more data points in this young population. The current study included only assessment of maternal reading abilities (following Aram and Levin, 2001, Aram et al., 2016, Hockenberger et al., 1999) and influence on their female offspring by the age of 4 years, since this was the main question of this study. However, maternal linguistic ability and verbal IQ are known to influence the child’s reading ability as well (according to the outside in model). Therefore an additional study should compare the neurobiological correlates of maternal linguistic vs reading ability in the child. Lastly, we have defined the child’s future reading network based on our previous studies looking at reading children ages 8–12 years old (Horowitz-Kraus et al., 2014). However, it may be that the child’s reading network is composed of functional connections between several networks related to visual and language processing as well as EF (see also Eggebrech et al., 2017 for between-networks functional connectivity in young children). A future study should confirm this point.