We investigate reading and reading-related processes using both standardized behavioral measures and a brain-based electrophysiological measure (the recording of event-related potentials or ERPs). We are interested in exploring how different systems develop and contribute to the reading process. For example, the visual system must be involved in reading since it is the only system that receives information from the printed page. What aspects of the visual system are involved in reading? How do they develop? Are there different time courses of development for different aspects of the visual system? Does the visual system of a better reader process word information differently than the visual system of a poorer reader, and, if so, how? How do different aspects of the visual system interact with other systems involved in reading?
The ERP technique is particularly useful for answering questions about timing. ERPs reflect information processing in the brain on the order of milliseconds [one millisecond (ms) is 1/1000th of one second]. Other methods (like functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI) are better at revealing where in the brain information is processed, but ERPs are superior for exploring when information is processed. In fluent readers, the process of reading is automatic – it does not take a lot of time or effort. Indeed, a fluent reader can read (sensory perception, recognition, and understanding) a printed word in about 250 to 400 ms (that’s pretty fast!). We are interested in how reading becomes automatic over developmental time and how different processes contributing to the ability to read become integrated to allow for fluent and automatic reading. We are also interested in what happens when reading does not become automatic over time and in what contributing processes might prevent automaticity from developing. Because automaticity by definition involves timing, the recording of ERPs is a particularly appropriate tool for investigating the development of fluent, automatic reading processes.