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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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