Neural synchrony predicts children's learning of novel words

Elise A. Piazza, Ariella Cohen, Juliana Trach, Casey Lew-Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Social interactions, such as joint book reading, have a well-studied influence on early development and language learning. Recent work has begun to investigate the neural mechanisms that underlie shared representations of input, documenting neural synchrony (measured using intersubject temporal correlations of neural activity) between individuals exposed to the same stimulus. Neural synchrony has been found to predict the quality of engagement with a stimulus and with communicative cues, but studies have yet to address how neural synchrony among children may relate to real-time learning. Using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), we recorded the neural activity of 45 children (3.5–4.5 years) during joint book reading with an adult experimenter. The custom children's book contained four novel words and objects embedded in an unfolding story, as well as a range of narrative details about object functions and character roles. We observed synchronized neural activity between child participants during book reading and found a positive correlation between learning and intersubject neural synchronization in parietal cortex, an area implicated in narrative-level processing in adult research. Our findings suggest that signature patterns of neural engagement with the dynamics of stories facilitate children's learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104752
StatePublished - Sep 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


  • Book reading
  • Neural synchrony
  • Word learning
  • fNIRS


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