Associations between home literacy environment, brain white matter integrity and cognitive abilities in preschool-age children

Hutton, J. S., Dudley, J., Horowitz-Kraus, T., DeWitt, T., & Holland, S. K. (2020). JAMA pediatrics174(1), e193869-e193869. Acta Paediatr. 2019 Dec 18. doi: 10.1111/apa.15124


Caregiver-child reading is advocated by health organisations, citing cognitive and neurobiological benefits. The influence of home literacy environment (HLE) on brain structure prior to kindergarten has not previously been studied.


Preschool-age children completed assessments of language (EVT-2, CTOPP-2 Rapid Object Naming) and emergent literacy skills (Get Ready to Read!, The Reading House) followed by diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). Parents completed a survey of HLE (StimQ-P2 READ), which has four subscales. DTI measures included axial diffusivity (AD), radial diffusivity (RD), mean diffusivity (MD) and fractional anisotropy (FA).


Forty-seven children completed DTI (54 ± 7 months, range 36-63; 27 girls). StimQ-P2 READ scores correlated with higher EVT-2, GRTR and TRH scores, controlling for age and gender (P < .01), and also with lower AD, RD and MD in tracts supporting language and literacy skills, controlling for age, gender and income (P < .05, family-wise error corrected). Correlations were strongest for the Bookreading Quantity subscale, including with higher scores on all cognitive measures including CTOPP-2, and also with higher FA in left-lateralised literacy-supporting tracts, controlling for age, gender and income.


More nurturing home reading environment prior to kindergarten may stimulate brain development supporting language and literacy skills, reinforcing the need for further study.