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Keywords:

  • functional neuroimaging;
  • illiteracy;
  • inter-hemispheric differences;
  • literacy;
  • PET;
  • structural MRI

Abstract

The current understanding of hemispheric interaction is limited. Functional hemispheric specialization is likely to depend on both genetic and environmental factors. In the present study we investigated the importance of one factor, literacy, for the functional lateralization in the inferior parietal cortex in two independent samples of literate and illiterate subjects. The results show that the illiterate group are consistently more right-lateralized than their literate controls. In contrast, the two groups showed a similar degree of left–right differences in early speech-related regions of the superior temporal cortex. These results provide evidence suggesting that a cultural factor, literacy, influences the functional hemispheric balance in reading and verbal working memory-related regions. In a third sample, we investigated grey and white matter with voxel-based morphometry. The results showed differences between literacy groups in white matter intensities related to the mid-body region of the corpus callosum and the inferior parietal and parietotemporal regions (literate > illiterate). There were no corresponding differences in the grey matter. This suggests that the influence of literacy on brain structure related to reading and verbal working memory is affecting large-scale brain connectivity more than grey matter per se.