Here’s what happens when adults learn to read

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Here’s what happens when adults learn to read

Tanya Farber | 2017-06-13 13:20:29.0

Learning to read in adulthoood transforms the brain, according to a new study.

Image by: patpitchaya/Istock.com

When adults learn to read‚ their brains get rewired.

This may come as a surprise to anyone who follows research on early childhood development‚ which takes place during the early years when our brains are open to forming new pathways.

In adulthood‚ this is a much harder thing for the brain to do‚ but scientists at the Max Planck Institute have now discovered that changes take place in a deep part of the adult brain.

Falk Huettig‚ the lead author on the study published in Science Advances‚ and his team expected at least some development in the outer cortex region.

But‚ after 21 illiterate adults from a rural area in India were taught to read and write Hindi over six months‚ the MRI of their brains before and after their literacy course showed changes in areas much deeper inside the brain structure.

Although human writing is a recent phenomenon‚ the places deep inside the brain where the changes took place are ancient and evolved long ago.

“It may seem simple to the trained mind‚ but to the uninitiated‚ reading means fine co-ordination and sychronisation of different parts of the brain – visual‚ auditory and even motor. It requires the brain to associate visual‚ language and auditory information‚” said Huettig in a statement.

“What our study shows is adult neuroplasticity at work.”

This means the study could help bridge the gap between “targeted learning” and “scientific learning”.

It has also shed light on dyslexia‚ and therefore can help scientists develop new ways to overcome it.

“It was once considered a linguistic disorder‚” said Huettig‚ “but it is now believed to be in the domain of visual-attention and thalamus [the area of the brain that relays sensory information] has a huge role to play here.”



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