Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Colombian Guerrillas Help Scientists Locate Literacy In The Brain

Date:
October 15, 2009
Source:
Wellcome Trust
Summary:
A unique study of former guerrillas in Colombia has helped scientists redefine their understanding of the key regions of the brain involved in literacy. The study has enabled the researchers to see how brain structure changed after learning to read.

A unique study of former guerrillas in Colombia has helped scientists redefine their understanding of the key regions of the brain involved in literacy. The study, funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science, has enabled the researchers to see how brain structure changed after learning to read.

Related Articles


Language is a uniquely human ability that evolved at some point in the six million years since humans and chimpanzees diverged. Even without being taught or having adults to copy, children develop sophisticated language systems. In contrast, reading is a learnt skill that does not develop without intensive tuition and practice.

Understanding how our brain structures change as we learn to read has proved difficult as the majority of people learn to read when they are children, at the same time as learning many other skills. Separating the changes caused by reading from those caused by, for example, learning social skills or how to play football, is almost impossible. Studying adult learners is also challenging because in most educated societies adult illiteracy is typically the result of learning impairments or poor health.

In today's edition of Nature, researchers from the UK, Spain and Colombia describe a study working with an unusual cohort: former guerrillas in Colombia who are re-integrating into mainstream society and learning to read for the first time as adults.

"Separating out changes in our brains caused by learning to read has so far proven almost impossible because of other confounding factors," explains Professor Cathy Price, a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow at UCL (University College London). "Working with the former Colombia guerrillas has provided a unique opportunity to see how the brain develops when reading skills are acquired."

The researchers examined magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of the brains of twenty guerrillas who had completed a literacy programme in their native tongue (Spanish) in adulthood. They compared these to scans of twenty-two similar adults prior to commencing the same literacy programme. The results revealed which brain areas are special for reading, prompting new research in the UK on how these regions are connected in adults who learn to read in childhood.

The researchers found that for those participants who had learnt to read, the density of grey matter (where the 'processing' is done) was higher in several areas of the left hemisphere of the brain. As might be expected, these were the areas that are responsible for recognising letter shapes and translating the letters into speech sounds and their meanings. Reading also increased the strength of the 'white matter' connections between the different processing regions.

Particularly important were the connections to and from an area of the brain known as the angular gyrus. Scientists have known for over 150 years that this brain region is important for reading, but the new research has shown that its role had been misunderstood.

Previously, it was thought that the angular gyrus recognised the shapes of words prior to finding their sounds and meanings. In fact, the researchers showed that the angular gyrus is not directly involved in translating visual words into their sounds and meanings. Instead, it supports this process by providing predictions of what the brain is expecting to see.

"The traditional view has been that the angular gyrus acts as a 'dictionary' that translates the letters of a word into a meaning." explains Professor Price. "In fact, we have shown that its role is more in anticipating what our eye will see – more akin to the predictive texting function on a mobile phone."

The findings are likely to prove useful for researchers trying to understand the causes of the reading disorder dyslexia. Studies of dyslexics have shown regions of reduced grey and white matter in regions that grow after learning to read. The new study suggests that some of the differences seen in dyslexia may be a consequence of reading difficulties rather than a cause.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Wellcome Trust. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Wellcome Trust. "Colombian Guerrillas Help Scientists Locate Literacy In The Brain." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 October 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091014130704.htm>.
Wellcome Trust. (2009, October 15). Colombian Guerrillas Help Scientists Locate Literacy In The Brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091014130704.htm
Wellcome Trust. "Colombian Guerrillas Help Scientists Locate Literacy In The Brain." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091014130704.htm (accessed December 18, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) Yoga can help your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and heart just as much as biking and walking does, a new study suggests. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
1st Responders Trained for Autism Sensitivity

1st Responders Trained for Autism Sensitivity

AP (Dec. 16, 2014) More departments are ordering their first responders to sit in on training sessions that focus on how to more effectively interact with those with autism spectrum disorder (Dec. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Guys Are Idiots, According To Sarcastic Study

Guys Are Idiots, According To Sarcastic Study

Newsy (Dec. 12, 2014) A study out of Britain suggest men are more idiotic than women based on the rate of accidental deaths and other factors. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Believing in Father Christmas Good for Children's Imaginations

Believing in Father Christmas Good for Children's Imaginations

AFP (Dec. 12, 2014) As the countdown to Christmas gets underway, so too does the Father Christmas conspiracy. But psychologists say that telling our children about Santa, flying reindeer and elves is good for their imaginations. Duration: 01:57 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins