Most people are expert readers, but it is something of an enigma that our brain can achieve expertise in such a recent cultural invention, which lies at the interface between vision and language. Given that the first alphabetic scripts are thought to have been invented only around four to five thousand years it is unlikely that enough time has elapsed to allow the evolution of specialized parts of the brain for reading. While neuroimaging techniques have made some progress in understanding the neural underpinning of this essentially cultural skill, the exact unfolding of brain activity has remained elusive.
Now, a better understanding of the brain basis of reading has been reported in research published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE. The research was led by Piers Cornelissen, Morten Kringelbach, Ian Holliday and Peter Hansen from the Universities of York, Oxford, Aston, and Birmingham UK, and was funded by the Wellcome Trust. The authors showed very early interactions between the vision and language domains during reading, with the speech motor areas of the brain (inferior frontal gyrus) being active at the same time (after a seventh of a second) as the orthographic word-form is being resolved within a brain region called the fusiform gyrus. This finding challenges the conventional view of a temporally serial processing sequence for reading in which letter forms are initially decoded, interact with their phonological and semantic representations, and only then gain access to a speech code.
This finding has a potentially important clinical application in relation to developmental dyslexia (affecting between 15-30 million people in the US alone) and those with acquired reading disabilities through injury or disease. A better understanding of normal reading processes could potentially help these individuals.
The research team used a neuroimaging method called magnetoencephalography (MEG) at Aston University,
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