Children diagnosed with dyslexia show greater emotional reactivity than children without dyslexia, according to a new collaborative study by UC San Francisco neuroscientists with the UCSF Dyslexia Center and UCSF Memory and Aging Center.
In the study, published online in an early form Nov. 20, 2020, in Cortex, children with dyslexia who watched emotionally evocative videos showed increased physiological and behavioral responses when compared to children without dyslexia. This higher emotional reactivity was correlated with stronger connectivity in the brain’s salience network, a system that supports emotion generation and self-awareness.
The results broaden current conceptualizations of typical dyslexia and suggest the syndrome is much more complex than just a weakness in reading skills, adding support to the growing awareness that dyslexia is often associated with hidden interpersonal strengths.
At the UCSF Dyslexia Center, the children were fitted with sensors to monitor breathing, skin conductance, and heart rate, and their facial expressions were filmed as they viewed short film clips designed to elicit specific positive and negative emotions such as amusement and disgust. For example, they watched a baby laughing and a woman who was about to vomit.
The researchers found that the children with dyslexia displayed greater emotional facial behavior and were more physiologically reactive while watching the film clips than children without dyslexia. In addition, functional MRI scans of the children’s brain activity revealed that the Children diagnosed who were most expressive had stronger connectivity between the right anterior insula and the right anterior cingulate cortex – key structures in the salience network that support emotion generation and self-awareness. In the children with dyslexia, those with stronger emotional facial expressions also had greater parent-reported social skills but also greater symptoms of anxiety and depression.
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