Reading and Writing

, Volume 24, Issue 5, pp 493-516

First online:

Differences between good and poor child writers on fMRI contrasts for writing newly taught and highly practiced letter forms

  • Todd L. RichardsAffiliated withDepartment of Radiology, University of Washington Email author 
  • , Virginia W. BerningerAffiliated withDepartment of Educational Psychology, University of Washington Email author 
  • , Pat StockAffiliated withDepartment of Educational Psychology, University of Washington
  • , Leah AltemeierAffiliated withDepartment of Educational Psychology, University of Washington
  • , Pamala TrivediAffiliated withDepartment of Educational Psychology, University of Washington
  • , Kenneth R. MaravillaAffiliated withDepartment of Radiology, University of Washington

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


During fMRI imaging, 12 good and 8 poor writers aged 11 wrote a newly taught pseudoletter and a highly practiced letter. Both letters were formed from the same components, but the pseudoletter had a novel configuration not corresponding to a written English letter form. On the first fMRI contrast between the newly taught pseudoletter and highly practiced letter, based on a group map, good and poor writers significantly activated many common regions; but the poor writers showed spatially more extensive brain activation than did the good writers. The additional regions of significant activation may reflect inefficiency in learning a new letter form. For the second contrast between the highly practiced and newly taught letters, individual brain activation analyses, based on exact clusters, showed that good and poor writers differed significantly in activation only in left fusiform. This individual fusiform activation correlated significantly with behavioral measures of automatic letter writing and expressive orthographic coding. Multiple regression in which both individual fusiform activation and individual orthographic coding were entered explained significant variance in written composition. Results are discussed in reference to the role of the orthographic loop, from internal letter form to external letter writing by hand, in writing letters and composing. The overall results are consistent with prior brain and behavioral studies of writing.


Brain and writing development fMRI writing tasks Handwriting