Background. Neural specialization for print develops during learning to read and can be studied with event-related brain potentials (ERPs). Neural adaptation refers to smaller neural responses when a stimulus or a class of stimuli is repeated several times. Previously, neural specialization for print processing in adults has been shown to be reflected in the word-specific N170 component of the ERP. Furthermore, adapation of the N170 elicited by words has been found to correlate with reading speed. Here, we investigated adapation of the N170-component evoked by single letters, words and faces in seven to nine- year old German-language speaking children and in a group of adult normal readers.
Results. For adults, we replicated previous reports of adaptation of N170-amplitude at posterior-temporal electrodes P7 and P8 for single letters and words. For children, we only observed adaptation of N170-amplitude for single letters. No adaptation of N170-amplitude was apparent for words. However, in both, children as well as adults, N170-adaptation did not correlate with measures of reading speed. For faces, that served as a non-linguistic control condition, no adaptation of N170 amplitude was observed.
Conclusions. We conclude that adaptation of the word-specific N170 component of the ERP might be linked to increasing perceptual experience with letters and words.