Neuroscientists have discovered how the brain can learn new words, that is, using words as images.
People who cannot learn words with the sound system (the usual method of teaching reading) can learn new words as if they were visual objects. This is a great way to learn new words quickly and effectively.
The nature of orthographic representations in the human brain is still under discussion.
The brain is able to learn new words quickly because it sees the word as if it were a single block, this is the conclusion reached by a study focused on this topic.
What did the study reveal?
Researchers have found that a small part of our brain is holistic – that is, tuned to recognizing words in their entirety, rather than treating them as letters or syllables. A part of the brain, therefore, could photograph the words to recognize them.
Recent studies have revealed that the part of the brain that considers words visually is located in the left occipito-temporal cortex and contains an orthographic lexicon based on highly selective neuronal representations for individually written real words. According to this theory, learning new words selectively implies a greater specificity of neural activity for these words in the “visual” area.
The opinion of the experts
Dr. Maximilian Riesenhuber, a neuroscientist at Georgetown University Medical Center who led the study, said:
“We don’t recognize words quickly from spelling or that identify as parts of words, as some researchers suggest. However, neurons in a small area of the brain help photograph the internal word and its shape in a way that might be termed a ‘visual dictionary’.
A part of the brain called the “visual area of the word” is essential for learning words “.
Within the visual cortex is the fusiform gyrus, a sector that helps recognize faces.
Dr. Riesenhuber reveals that “one area of the brain is one that allows us to recognize people quickly and another part is selective for an entire word, so it helps us to read quickly “.
How the study was conducted
25 participants were asked to learn absurdly simple new words, as well as new words without meaning.
Their brains were x-rayed before and after the experiment, analyzing their changes.
The results showed that, after becoming aware of the different words, the area of the brain that takes care of photographing the shape of the words began to respond to nonsense words as if they were real words.
Dr. Laurie Glezer, one of the first leaders of the study, argues that ” this study is the first of its kind to show how neurons change attunement with learned words, revealing the plasticity of the brain. “
Based on the data collected, it may be easier for people with reading difficulties to learn new words by using words as pictures.
In fact, Dr. Riesenhuber is convinced that “ whoever cannot learn words with the sound system (the usual method of teaching reading) can learn new words as if they were a visual object ; it could be a great strategy for learning new words quickly and effectively.
The area that analyzes the visual form of the word is not interested in the sound it produces.
The fact that this type of learning only occurs in a small part of the brain is a great example of selective brain plasticity.
Learning a word appears to selectively increase the specificity of neurons for new words in the area of the brain that displays the words by adding them to the brain’s visual dictionary.
Link to the complete study
The research in question is published in the online journal Journal of Neuroscience (http://www.jneurosci.org/content/35/12/4965.full.pdf+html)