A new study at Ohio State University has revealed that humans are born with a brain that is “prewired” to recognize words and letter.
Brain scans of newborns revealed that the part of the brain called the “visual word form area” (VWFA) is bound to the language processing part of the brain, making it an arable medium to develop a sensitivity to visually represented words and letter. And that too – even prior to any exposure to language.
The VWFA becomes specialized for reading in adults, only following exposure to literary training. At least it’s what they thought.
Earlier, it was also hypothesized that the pre-reading VWFA starts out equally as the other parts of the visual cortex that are sensitive to seeing faces, scenes or other objects, and only becomes selective to words and letters as children to learn to read or at least as they learn language.
However, the new study have found that hypothesis to be incorrect. It claims that even at the time of birth, the VWFA is even more closely and functionally linked to the language network of the brain than it is to other regions.
The VWFA is next to another part of visual cortex that processes faces, and initially, the team conjectured this arrangement would be true for the brains in newborns. It was a perfectly logical assumption given the lack of information that might suggest otherwise.
But following the analysis of the fMRI scans of the brains of 40 newborns and comparing them to similar scans from 40 adults, the team found that – like in the adults, VWFA in newborns, was different from the part of the visual cortex that processes faces, primarily because it’s connected to the language network of the brain.
In other words, our brains are predisposed to see words even before we are exposed to them. We already have what it takes to develop functional specialization, even for an experience-dependent category like seeing words and learning to recognize them.
Of course, the team chanced upon some differences in the VWFA in newborns and adults. They noted they would need to capture every nuance of the VWFA as babies develop language ability.
“Experience with spoken and written language will likely strengthen connections with specific aspects of the language circuit and further differentiate this region’s function from its neighbors as a person gains literacy,” explained Zeynep Saygin, the lead author of the study in a news release.
The goal of these findings is to provide us with fresh insights as to how newborns learn to read. Learning to forecast individual variability would help researchers figure why different people have reading behavior, and could be helpful in preparing novel treatments for dyslexia and other developmental disorders.
“Knowing what this region is doing at this early age will tell us a bit more about how the human brain can develop the ability to read and what may go wrong,” Saygin said. “It is important to track how this region of the brain becomes increasingly specialized.”
The study entitled “Innate connectivity patterns drive the development of the visual word form area” has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.