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Neuroimaging study finds extensive brain rewiring–in just six months–among illiterate adults learning to read and write

Learn­ing to read and write rewires adult brain in six months (New Sci­en­tist):

Learn­ing to read can have pro­found effects on the wiring of the adult brain – even in regions that aren’t usu­al­ly asso­ci­at­ed with read­ing and writ­ing.

That’s what Michael Skei­de of the Max Planck Insti­tute for Human Cog­ni­tive and Brain Sci­ences in Leipzig, Ger­many, and his col­leagues found when they taught a group of illit­er­ate adults in rur­al India to read and write…By the end of the study, the team saw sig­nif­i­cant changes in the brains of the peo­ple who had learned to read and write. These indi­vid­u­als showed an increase in brain activ­i­ty in the cor­tex, the out­er­most lay­er of the brain, which is involved in learn­ing.

Learn­ing to read also seemed to change brain regions that aren’t typ­i­cal­ly involved in read­ing, writ­ing or learn­ing. Two regions deep in the brain, in par­tic­u­lar, appeared more active after train­ing – por­tions of the thal­a­mus and the brain­stem.

These two regions are known to coor­di­nate infor­ma­tion from our sens­es and our move­ment, among oth­er things. Both areas made stronger con­nec­tions to the part of the brain that process­es vision after learn­ing to read. The most dra­mat­ic changes were seen in those peo­ple who pro­gressed the most in their read­ing and writ­ing skills.”

The Study

Learn­ing to read alters cor­ti­co-sub­cor­ti­cal cross-talk in the visu­al sys­tem of illit­er­ates (Sci­ence Advances)

  • Abstract: Learn­ing to read is known to result in a reor­ga­ni­za­tion of the devel­op­ing cere­bral cor­tex. In this lon­gi­tu­di­nal rest­ing-state func­tion­al mag­net­ic res­o­nance imag­ing study in illit­er­ate adults, we show that only 6 months of lit­er­a­cy train­ing can lead to neu­ro­plas­tic changes in the mature brain. We observed that lit­er­a­cy-induced neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty is not con­fined to the cor­tex but increas­es the func­tion­al con­nec­tiv­i­ty between the occip­i­tal lobe and sub­cor­ti­cal areas in the mid­brain and the thal­a­mus. Indi­vid­ual rates of con­nec­tiv­i­ty increase were sig­nif­i­cant­ly relat­ed to the indi­vid­ual decod­ing skill gains. These find­ings cru­cial­ly com­ple­ment cur­rent neu­ro­bi­o­log­i­cal con­cepts of nor­mal and impaired lit­er­a­cy acqui­si­tion.

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Categories: Cognitive Neuroscience, Education & Lifelong Learning

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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