The Brain and Reading

The Brain and Reading May 10, 2012

From Dominik Kurek at Inside Halton:

The presenters were Dr. Guinevere Eden and Dr. Maureen Lovett.

Lovett is a senior scientist in the Neurosciences and Mental Health Program at the Hospital for Sick Children and professor of pediatrics and medical sciences at the University of Toronto.

Eden is a professor in the department of pediatrics and director of the Centre for the Study of Learning at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Eden is also a past president of the International Dyslexia Association.

Eden spoke about brain imaging (through tools such as a MRI) and how it can be used to learn about reading acquisition and intervention. She said her research findings are the result of years of work by a very large team.

“There’s something really important to remember and that sometimes we forget. When we study the reading brain, we have to remember the brain was not designed to read,” she told the gathering.

Eden said language has been around for hundreds of thousands of years and it develops spontaneously in a child. Reading, however, does not.

“Reading is a cultural invention,” Eden said. “There’s nothing designed in the brain to make us readers. Reading has only been around for 4,000 years, maybe a little longer. There are no systems in place from an evolutionary perspective designed for reading.”

The brain is apportioned for various tasks. However, Eden said, when people learn to read, brain areas designed for other skills are being converted for the reading skill.

“It’s important to remember this is a skill that we have invented and we use to access knowledge and information,” Eden said.

“It’s not a skill that we have a designated brain region for. It’s something the brain has to learn and it takes many years to learn it. For some individuals, it’s just a huge challenge to do this very specific skill.”

The researcher took the audience on a tour of the brain in an effort to provide participants with a better understanding of how it works and how it learns.

The brain, she said, compartmentalizes various tasks into different areas of the brain. Also, it is adept at studying objects, evident at a child’s early life when he or she learns to recognize the faces of family members. However, people are better able to recognize the faces of people they’re familiar with — a task that is experience driven.

“When we learn words, clearly learning to read involves many different mechanisms and one of them is the recognition of words and having that exposure. Many of you, as teachers, know that exposure to words is one of the key things to build familiarity and recognition,” Eden said.


"Shame on you for saying that about RHE. Have some respect for the dead, whether ..."

For Al Mohler, It’s about Authority
"I did not say that my opinion carry more weight. I did say, if an ..."

What to Say When Someone says ..."
"Thank you. I respectfully disagree that your opinion should carry more weight than your wife's, ..."

What to Say When Someone says ..."
"Thanks Phil. It is readers like you that motivate me to do these interviews!"

Caesar and Sacrament

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Percival

    Living in a semi/non-literate culture, I have noticed that many people have exceptional memories in many areas in comparison to Westerners. It seems there must be some connection.

  • Maybe I should volunteer for a future study on the effects of reading. When I read – I sleep. There are seldom instances when I can stay awake for any length of time when reading. Of course it might have to do with the subject matter but I’m not convinced. 🙂

  • Reading literacy modifies the ways we think and learn. Socrates’ The Phaedrus details the potential dangers of text–before reading was widely adopted. Ong discusses the differences between a story passed on by telling and one written down.

    Currently we are adding digital literacy to the way we learn and acquire knowledge. More changes are on their way.

  • DRT

    I don’t remember where I saw the article, but I read one about blind people and how reading braille is becoming less prevalent. With all the computers and text to speech capability the ability to read braille is going away. The part that changed my paradigm was that they said, therefore, blind people are becoming illiterate. Illiterate? I never before equated reading braille with literacy, and having it translated to spoken words as illiterate, but it is.

  • Reading Nick Carr’s the Shallows right now and I am in the part where he is talking about the brain.

    I have read some critique of the Shallows and the main one that I hear is that Carr talks about how the internet is literally changing the way our brains are mapped, but that it is actually every single thing that we do, changes the way that our brains are mapped.

    So literate cultures have a different mapping than illiterate cultures. But also English literate cultures have a different brain mapping than Chinese literate cultures which have a different mapping than Italian literate cultures (this is from the Shallows, Italian spelling is almost always phonetic, so you just read what you see, English spelling has a number of words that look different from what they are phonetically so there are decoding skills and memory skills that are also a part of the activity and Chinese and other more graphically oriented languages are even more decoding and visually focused).