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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Training-related changes in early visual processing of functionally illiterate adults: evidence from event-related brain potentials

Melanie Boltzmann and Jascha Rüsseler*

Author Affiliations

Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Bamberg, Markusplatz 3, 96047 Bamberg, Germany

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BMC Neuroscience 2013, 14:154  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-14-154

Published: 13 December 2013



Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were used to investigate training-related changes in fast visual word recognition of functionally illiterate adults. Analyses focused on the left-lateralized occipito-temporal N170, which represents the earliest processing of visual word forms. Event-related brain potentials were recorded from 20 functional illiterates receiving intensive literacy training for adults, 10 functional illiterates not participating in the training and 14 regular readers while they read words, pseudowords or viewed symbol strings. Subjects were required to press a button whenever a stimulus was immediately repeated.


Attending intensive literacy training was associated with improvements in reading and writing skills and with an increase of the word-related N170 amplitude. For untrained functional illiterates and regular readers no changes in literacy skills or N170 amplitude were observed.


Results of the present study suggest that the word-related N170 can still be modulated in adulthood as a result of the improvements in literacy skills.