Revisiting language and brain expansion (Evolution)

by David Turell @, Tuesday, August 04, 2020, 21:21 (169 days ago) @ David Turell

Repurposing an area for reading skills:

"Humans began to develop systems of reading and writing only within the past few thousand years. Our reading abilities set us apart from other animal species, but a few thousand years is much too short a timeframe for our brains to have evolved new areas specifically devoted to reading.

"To account for the development of this skill, some scientists have hypothesized that parts of the brain that originally evolved for other purposes have been "recycled" for reading. As one example, they suggest that a part of the visual system that is specialized to perform object recognition has been repurposed for a key component of reading called orthographic processing -- the ability to recognize written letters and words. (my bold)


"Reading is a complex process that requires recognizing words, assigning meaning to those words, and associating words with their corresponding sound. These functions are believed to be spread out over different parts of the human brain.

"Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies have identified a region called the visual word form area (VWFA) that lights up when the brain processes a written word. This region is involved in the orthographic stage: It discriminates words from jumbled strings of letters or words from unknown alphabets. The VWFA is located in the IT cortex, a part of the visual cortex that is also responsible for identifying objects.


"The researchers also recorded neural activity from a different brain area that also feeds into IT cortex: V4, which is part of the visual cortex. When they fed V4 activity patterns into the linear classifier model, the model poorly predicted (compared to IT) the human or baboon performance on the orthographic processing tasks.

"The findings suggest that the IT cortex is particularly well-suited to be repurposed for skills that are needed for reading, and they support the hypothesis that some of the mechanisms of reading are built upon highly evolved mechanisms for object recognition, the researchers say."

Comment: This finding is a logical extension of what we have learned about our big and formally oversized brain. We have been given a brain that has the ability to repurpose or recycle an area with underlying abilities, as noted in my bold. It is a result of the complexification mechanism of our brain.

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