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Abstract

Functional neuroimaging may provide insights into the achievement gap in reading skill commonly observed across socioeconomic status (SES). Brain activation during reading tasks is known to be associated with individual differences in children's phonological language skills. By selecting children of equivalent phonological skill, yet diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, we use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to demonstrate that a child's experience, as operationalized by SES, can systematically modulate the relationship between phonological language skills and reading-related brain activity in left fusiform and perisylvian regions. Specifically, at lower socioeconomic levels, individual differences in skill result in large differences in brain activation. In contrast, as SES increases, this relationship between phonological language skill and activation is attenuated. Socioeconomic background factors are thus found to modulate brain–behavior relationships in reading, indicating that cognitive, social, and neurobiological influences on reading development are fundamentally intertwined.