A University of Winnipeg scientist wants to peer into the brains of young readers as part of a research project that could yield answers into how kids learn to read and help identify difficulties early on.

Psychology professor Amy Desroches is interested in learning what goes on inside the minds of kids with reading difficulties, but first she needs a baseline.

By monitoring the brain waves of kids via electroencephalogram (EEG), her team will get an idea of the normal trajectory of reading development.

She's put out a call to parents of kids ages 6 to 11, looking for children with a range of reading abilities but without a history of cognitive, neurological or behavioural difficulties.

"So we're looking for fairly typical kids of a range who are interested in reading, interested in participating in science and want to help us out."

Right-handers only

Also, for this experiment, the children must be right-handed.

Amy Desroches U of W psychology professor

U of W psychology professor Amy Desroches. (Submitted)

Desroches said 95 per cent of people who are right-handed process language in the left hemisphere of the brain.

"For those that are left-handed, the picture is a little less clear. Some people have it in the left, some people have it in the right, some people have it across both hemispheres," Desroches said.

In order to do their analysis, they need a group that is as similar as possible, she said.

brain-controlled robots

A file photo shows an EEG cap, like those used in the experiment. (Jason Dorfman/MIT CSAIL)

The experiment, which takes about two hours, involves language assessments, some cognitive tasks, and a computerized test matching pictures and words. While the kids do that, the research team records their brains' responses using EEG.

"I've had some kids come in and say they feel like a mad scientist with this cap on," said Desroches.

This study is part of a larger project stretching over decades, with the aim of understanding how kids learn to read.

"We're trying to look at how as kids learn to read, it changes the way they process other aspects of language. Reading isn't something that we're born into. It's something that we fit into a system that's designed for something else. So we're trying to understand how that works."

Parents and kids interested in participating can contact the team at uwreadinglab@gmail.com

Desroches said a later experiment will look at kids with cognitive and reading difficulties, but if kids with learning problems are interested now, they can still contact Desroches and come in, she said.