Evolution and humans: more on learning to read (Evolution)

by David Turell @, Sunday, November 04, 2018, 14:47 (320 days ago) @ David Turell

A review of the study on illiterate Indian women learning to read in their Hindi language:

http://maxplanck.nautil.us/article/338/learning-to-read-in-your-30s-profoundly-transfor...


"Reading is such a new ability in human evolutionary history that the existence of a “reading area” could not be specified in our genes. A kind of recycling process has to take place in the brain while learning to read: Areas evolved for the recognition of complex objects, such as faces, become engaged in translating letters into language. Some regions of our visual system thereby turn into interfaces between the visual and language systems.

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"In contrast to previous assumptions, the learning process leads to a reorganization that extends to deep brain structures in the thalamus and the brainstem. The relatively young phenomenon of human writing, therefore, changes brain regions that are very old in evolutionary terms and already core parts of mice and other mammalian brains.

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“'We observed that the so-called colliculi superiores, a part of the brainstem, and the pulvinar, located in the thalamus, adapt the timing of their activity patterns to those of the visual cortex,” says Michael Skeide, scientific researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI CBS) in Leipzig and first author of the study, which has been published in the renowned magazine Science Advances. “These deep structures in the thalamus and brainstem help our visual cortex to filter important information from the flood of visual input even before we consciously perceive it.” Interestingly, it seems that the more the signal timings between the two brain regions are aligned, the better the reading capabilities. “We, therefore, believe that these brain systems increasingly fine-tune their communication as learners become more and more proficient in reading,” the neuroscientist explains further. “This could explain why experienced readers navigate more efficiently through a text.”

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"Therefore, in this study, nearly all participants were women in their 30s. At the beginning of the training, the majority of them could not decipher a single written word of their mother tongue Hindi. Hindi, one of the official languages of India, is based on Devanagari, a scripture with complex characters describing whole syllables or words rather than single letters.

"Participants reached a level comparable to a first-grader after only six months of reading training. “This growth of knowledge is remarkable,” says project leader Huettig. “While it is quite difficult for us to learn a new language, it appears to be much easier for us to learn to read. The adult brain proves to be astonishingly flexible.'”

Comment: We know this study but the description of the active brain changes is certainly interesting, making brain plasticity quite clear.


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