Cerebral asymmetry and language development: cause, correlate, or consequence?
In most people, language is processed predominantly by the left hemisphere of the brain, but we do not know how or why. A popular view is that developmental language disorders result from a poorly lateralized brain, but until recently, evidence has been weak and indirect. Modern neuroimaging methods have made it possible to study normal and abnormal development of lateralized function in the developing brain and have confirmed links with language and literacy impairments. However, there is little evidence that weak cerebral lateralization has common genetic origins with language and literacy impairments. Our understanding of the association between atypical language lateralization and developmental disorders may benefit if we reconceptualize the nature of cerebral asymmetry to recognize its multidimensionality and consider variation in lateralization over developmental time. Contrary to popular belief, cerebral lateralization may not be a highly heritable, stable characteristic of individuals; rather, weak lateralization may be a consequence of impaired language learning.