What Does Reading Have to Tell Us about Writing?
Preliminary Questions and Methodological Challenges
in Examining the Neurobiological Foundations of Writing and Writing Disabilities
Kenneth R. Pugh, Stephen J. Frost, Rebecca Sandak, Margie Gillis, Dina Moore, Annette R. Jenner, and W. Einar Mencl
Neuroimaging techniques have been employed with increasing frequency in recent years to examine both typical and atypical development in cognitive domains such as language, reading, memory, mathematical reasoning, attention, and executive function (Papanicolaou, Pugh, Simos, & Mencl, 2004). Research aimed at identifying the neural systems (neurocircuity) that underlie these complex cognitive functions has benefited in recent years from rapid advances in neuroimaging technologies (e.g., positron emission tomography "PET"; functional magnetic resonance imaging "fMRI"; magnetoencephalography "MEG").
In essence, functional neuroimaging allows us to identify sets of interrelated brain regions that are engaged (activated) when the participant performs a specific cognitive task (see Papanicolaou et al., 2004, for detailed methodological discussion and contrast of different technologies). While we can assume that different cognitive functions will engage many overlapping brain regions, we also might expect domain-specific circuits, and the extant data seem to bear out this expectation. Thus, for instance, some— but not all—brain regions activated during language-processing tasks will be nonoverlapping with regions associated with visual perception, mathematical reasoning, or memory tasks (Frackowiack, Friston, Fruth, Dolan, & Mazziotta, 1997).
In this chapter we consider the kinds of methodological and design challenges that must be met if functional neuroimaging is to be applied fruitfully to the study of composition in writing and its disorders. To date, relatively little neuroimaging research has been conducted in this complex language production domain. However, it can be reasonably assumed from the outset that writing will share with other language functions many overlapping neurobiological systems. Therefore, we begin by considering previous findings on the functional brain organization for spoken and written language perception and production. Berninger, Abbott, Abbott, Graham, and Richards (2002) have conducted extensive behavioral research on the interrelations among all of these language domains, stressing the need to determine how composition in writing and its difficulties relate to general competencies for language by ear (speech perception), mouth (speech production), eye (reading), and hand (writing). Moreover, each of these language domains is complex and hierarchically organized (Inde-