All parents understand the importance of their children learning to read. Becoming a confident reader from a young age is critical to your child’s ability to be able to follow their passions and dreams.
However, due to the impacts of COVID-19 on schooling and education, many parents are faced with the need to move to online learning and homeschooling. This change in structure can have its challenges for parents who are now needing to balance work, parenting and teaching. That’s why it’s important to find what your kids are passionate about, then use that passion to help them find the motivation to learn to read without getting discouraged.
Storytelling is how our brain naturally learns
Did you know thatchildren’s academic successes at ages nine and tencan be attributed to the amount of verbal conversation they hear from birth through age three? Oral forms of language (listening and speaking) are typically the very first methods of communication that kids come into contact with. As they begin to create mental associations from listening and speaking, reading and writing will come more naturally. That’s why Wordsmart uses funny oral storytelling to teach the sounds of the letters
It’s absolutely crucial to start your child’s reading journey at an early age, as between the ages of three to seven, your child’s young brain is highly receptive.
Gamifying the process of learning to read and write
Wordsmartis an app that was created to help children improve their literacy through gamification and storytelling. Based on scientific research and personal experience in literacy, the app triggers your child’s learning sweet spot, by mimicking the way our brains naturally learn using storytelling to teach the sounds of the letters.
By using sound, sight and touch to work through quests and earn rewards, kids will be subconsciously developing phonological awareness, letter recognition, sight words, letter-sound matching & tracing, long and short vowels, CVC words, rhyming couplets and more. Wordsmart also encourages psychological well-being in young learners, helping to support and strengthen healthy core beliefs so that children experience positive emotions while learning.
For children who have previously struggled with reading and writing, Wordsmart can instil a more positive learning experience and give them the motivation to continue learning through play. The app has also been successfully used as an intervention tool for all children with learning differences, such as dyslexia, as a more engaging and flexible alternative to conventional learning.
The creators of Wordsmart want to reframe the idea of dyslexia, which means difficulty with words. Instead, they propose the use of their created word, Prolexia, which means being proficient with words, as this expectation shift may play a huge role in helping kids to succeed.
Wordsmart is designed to help set children up for success through interactive games and activities they’ll be excited about.
Dyslexia isn’t just about bad spelling – teachers need to try a variety of strategies to build confidence.
I have this issue with how I hear words, Gareth, a 31-year-old graphic designer, tells me.
“So for example, while I was growing up, it was really hard to tell the difference between the words ‘girl’ and ‘grill’ because the ‘ir’ and the ‘l’ kind of overlapped in time unless you spoke really slowly. My teachers were always just flabbergasted that I couldn’t tell.”
To most of us, it seems obvious that the “ir” sound in “girl” comes before the “l”, but for Gareth, like many dyslexic sufferers, a dysfunction in the processing of neurological signals relative to each other in time, means that the letters tend to slip.
This problem snowballs when it comes to learning to read. It’s vital to be able to hear the sounds of the words and associate them with a symbol before you can decode them on a page.
But like all neurological disorders, dyslexia is not a static condition. The brain has an astonishing capacity to adapt and overcome hindrances which may be present in our neurobiology when we’re born – an ability referred to as neural plasticity.
This process works through a combination of repetition and feedback, in other words, practising. It’s the same way a violinist gradually learns to find finger positions on the strings.
System is skewed against dyslexics
Through persistence, and repeatedly trying to hear the differences between words, Gareth says he’s overcome many of the problems he faced when younger. But he feels that the education system is skewed against dyslexics.
“From my perspective, the big problem is that schools teach everything by telling. A teacher tells kids, ‘here’s how the world works, here’s how you solve this type of problem – now go and solve problems just like it’. But that impedes deep understanding. And it’s even worse for dyslexic kids who have problems with language.”
Indeed, many researchers say that the biggest problem for dyslexic children is not so much their condition, but that the current system – with its emphasis on memorising facts and meeting fixed milestones at young ages – leads them to lose confidence and their willingness to try.
It’s something the Mind Research Institute in California is looking to tackle by implementing a new system of learning for primary school children. This revolves round interactive puzzles and games, which ask probing questions, and crucially, are designed to engage the brain’s natural learning mechanisms.
“This game-based format is a way of guiding them along a path, without having to rely on language,” says Matthew Peterson, a neuroscientist who founded the institute back in 1998.
“And it works because, from a neuroscience perspective, you really need to learn by doing. You need to be put in situations where you have to figure things out, learn from your mistakes, and that’s not happening. The principle goes back to Socrates. He says, don’t tell people things, ask them questions and leave them to build their own knowledge.”
Learning through doing connects the back lobes of our brain – involved in sensing the environment – to the cognitive, emotional, and memory networks in the frontal areas. This “perception-action cycle” is the driving force behind learning. And it depends on making mistakes, recognising them, and then adjusting.
“The education system right now is just engaging the perception part of the cycle,” Peterson says. “Kids are listening and watching, there’s no action going on.
“And for dyslexics, it’s pretty common to have working memory issues. Language adds an additional level of working memory which makes learning even more difficult. If you directly engage the perception-action cycle through activities, it has a tighter loop and requires less working memory.
Not just a reading disorder
For many years, dyslexia was viewed simply as a reading disorder, rather than a multi-faceted neurological condition that can combine auditory, visual and memory-based language difficulties. As a result, many of the programmes for dyslexic children were fixated on phonics and distinguishing between the smallest sounds (phonemes) that go to make up words.
Phonics are one side of a very complex story. It’s become increasingly apparent that dyslexia can manifest as a range of symptoms. These overlap with other disorders such as dyspraxia and dysgraphia because many of the same brain areas are involved.
“The phonics approach often leaves out the idea of semantics,” says Anna Pitt, a researcher at the Dyslexia Research Trust at Oxford University. “The more contextualized the concept or word the child is trying to remember or spell, the easier it is for them to learn, because they go by the understanding rather than the memory. And phonics only works for regular words. If you try to apply phonics to the word island, you’ll come out with is-land. To recognise irregular words when reading, you have to use your visual memory.”
Dyslexia researchers say that very often the visual aspects of the condition are ignored. These are more subtle but can be seen in the problems many dyslexics have with differentiating between the letters “b” and “d”. It’s common for dyslexic children to complain that words appear to move as they try to read.
The visual problems dyslexics suffer sometimes result from an inability to control the convergence of the tracking of their eyes. This is believed to be due to a malfunction in one of the brain’s visual pathways.
Some of these children can be helped by using coloured glasses or paper in the classroom to give them a more reliable representation of what’s on the page. A new programme has recently launched to help dyslexics learn to control their visual attention through classroom-based exercises involving body and eye movement. It’s based on the theory of embodied cognition, which suggests that improving motor control throughout the body can improve attention and problem solving ability.
“We’re learning that tackling the attention side of things is often getting to the root of the problem far more effectively than just working on spelling,” Pitt says.
“You have to be prepared to let children find a way which works for them. If you look at dyslexics like Einstein or Richard Branson, their condition forced them to challenge the norm and find a new way of doing things. Sometimes this results in a solution which is better than the regular one, leading to fantastic new ideas which is how society develops.”
By David Cox, originally published in the Guardian / Mon 22 Sep 2014 14.35 BST
Rather than simply accepting people with neurodiverse conditions like autism or dyslexia, what if we recognised their hidden talents? Four neurodiverse people explain how the way their brains work has been key to their success
Alice Hewson Condition: Dyspraxia Superpower: Empathy
Alice Hewson says her dyspraxia gives her a strong sense of empathy. Image: Owen Richards for Positive News
“Growing up, I knew I wasn’t like the other children but I didn’t know why,” says Alice Hewson. The youth worker and journalist, 30, was late to hit developmental milestones like walking. She was at primary school in Newcastle when she was diagnosed with dyspraxia, which can affect coordination, organisational skills, memory and speech.
At school Hewson was picked on because she struggled with everything from sports to doing up her coat. There was physical bullying: “It was things like pushing me over in the corridor. Because I didn’t have good balance and was easy to knock over, I’d get trampled on.” Hewson, who developed anxiety in her teens, says her dyspraxia means she has a powerful ability to empathise and a strong sense of justice: “I’ve encountered difficulties that other people don’t have to deal with, and that’s made me incredibly caring. I can put myself in someone else’s situation. I respond in a very different way to people who aren’t neurodiverse.”“If you’re suffering from news exhaustion, Positive News magazine will be so good for your mental health.”– Claudia M. via TwitterSubscribe to Positive News magazine
While working at a youth project, for instance, Hewson noticed a boy refusing to join in a game. She spotted his poor hand-eye coordination and that he seemed overwhelmed (autistic people often experience sensory overload). So she spent time reassuring him: “I recognised he was different to the other kids. I could see he was on the verge of being upset.”
In her teens, Hewson launched an environmental group at school after becoming frustrated at playground littering. She was also a member of Gateshead Youth Assembly, a group representing the views of local young people, and is now a trustee of the Dyspraxia Foundation. “I’ve always had this awareness of societal issues and wanting to change the world. I need to stand up for things I believe in,” she says.
Tamara Thomas Condition: Dyslexia Superpower: Determination
Tamara Thomas says her dyslexia has made her more determined. Image: Sam Bush for Positive News
My single-mindedness comes from the challenges I had at school,” says Tamara Thomas, a project nurse lead at Barts Health NHS Trust. Although Thomas, 29, was diagnosed with dyslexia at university, she always had help with reading and writing at school in her native Swansea, Wales.
“I’d try not to ask for help because I didn’t want be different and I found coping strategies. If I had to read aloud, I’d go over and over the text before, and my parents would help me prepare my work,” she says. Secondary school teachers predicted Thomas would only pass one GCSE – a ‘C’ in maths. “It was devastating to be written off, but I wanted to prove them wrong,” she continues. “I picked subjects I enjoyed, like drama and healthcare studies and left with eight GCSEs.”
The negative perceptions have pushed me to be where I am today
After a BTEC in healthcare, Thomas did a degree, a postgraduate diploma and a master’s in nursing. “It appealed to me because it’s an active, hands-on career and I love dealing with people. I was diagnosed after my university tutors suspected I was dyslexic; I had adjustments like dictation software and extra time in exams.”
Of her dyslexia, Thomas explains that she sees words differently to most people. “Sometimes letters join up, look blurred or are in the wrong order. I know what I want to write, but I don’t know how to write it.
“People assume that if you have dyslexia you’re not bright, like the friend who said, ‘You can’t be dyslexic if you’ve got a master’s’.”
Without dyslexia, Thomas doubts she would be as driven: “The negative perceptions have pushed me to be where I am today and my next ambition is to do a PhD.”
Dean Rodney Condition: Autism Superpower: Creativity
Musician Dean Rodney has autism and is highly creative. Image: Heart n Soul
“Greta Thunberg called her autism a superpower because it means she thinks differently,” says singer Dean Rodney, 30, from London. “I see my autism as a superpower. I describe things differently and think of things differently. I think I’m a super creative person.”
Rodney, who performs and releases music through creative arts charity Heart n Soul, says: “My first memories of music were when I was three years old. I would listen to my mum and dad’s CDs – 70s and 80s music and a mix of styles.” Rodney developed his musical talent as a child, after performing in front of his school. He started rapping when he was 12 and joined a Heart n Soul youth project the following year.
Greta Thunberg called her autism a super-power
Among his biggest musical influences are French electro duo Daft Punk, Art of Noise and Paul Hardcastle – “especially the track The Wizard, the theme title of TV show Top of the Pops”. He counts his collaborations with other artists, such as the band Ravioli Me Away, among his greatest achievements.
Although he finds it difficult to travel independently (“there’s a lot going on around you”), Rodney says he finds it easy to remember song lyrics, as well as to write songs and stories.
There are other benefits to his autism, too. “You see the world from a different perspective,” he says. The inspiration for his 2012 musical project, the Dean Rodney Singers, came in a dream. “It featured 72 musicians from seven countries producing music, art, dance and videos. It all started with a dream. In the dream I went to see a band perform. I asked them, ‘What is the name of your band?’ They said, ‘DRS’. I asked, ‘What does that stand for?’ They said, ‘We don’t know’. I said, ‘How about the Dean Rodney Singers?’ And it got made into this amazing project.”
Rodney has a message for anyone who thinks autistic people are only good with numbers: “We can do everything!”
Psychologist Nancy Doyle says her ADHD makes her very alert. Image: Genius Within
“As a society, we have decided that people need to sit still for eight hours a day,” says Nancy Doyle, 43, a psychologist from Lewes in East Sussex. The world needs people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) like her, she argues. “I’m hyper alert and energetic. I react quickly, I think quickly. And in terms of a human species, not sitting down makes sense. We [people with ADHD] are the alert ones, we’re the ones who are up, awake late at night, the first to respond.”
These traits, says Doyle, also mean that if you have ADHD, you can be “absolutely brilliant in a crisis and very entrepreneurial”.
As well as working as a psychologist, Doyle runs social enterprise Genius Within, which helps people with neurodiversity into work. She was diagnosed in her mid-30s: “My work triggered the diagnosis – I was diagnosing people with these conditions and thinking ‘this is me’.”
People with ADHD are the alert ones, we’re the ones who are up, awake late at night, the first to respond
As a “tearaway teen”, her adolescence included periods of anxiety and depression. Doyle was bright, but disliked the constraints of school (“I felt like a caged animal”) and only felt settled once she was 18 and “the executive functions kicked in”. She moved into psychology after working in care for people with severe disabilities and mental health needs, noting the inadequacy of the existing psychological support.
She says of her ADHD: “I’m erratic. I don’t follow rules. I’m more driven by quick judgement. I have peaks and troughs in energy.” Her visual spacing and reasoning skills are high, but her concentration and memory are “average”.
“It’s like I’m doing 100 miles per hour down the highway and the brakes fall off when I hit a corner – I have to think carefully how I can apply the brakes.” And what does society miss out on by ignoring neurodiverse people, like individuals with ADHD? “We’re missing out on people’s ingenuity.”
Featured image: Alice Hewson, credit: Owen Richards for Positive News
Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences proposes that people are not born with all of the intelligence they will ever have.
This theory challenged the traditional notion that there is one single type of intelligence, sometimes known as “g” for general intelligence, that only focuses on cognitive abilities.
To broaden this notion of intelligence, Gardner introduced eight different types of intelligences consisting of: Linguistic, Logical/Mathematical, Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, and Naturalist.
Gardner notes that the linguistic and logical-mathematical modalities are most typed valued in school and society.
Gardner also suggests that there may other “candidate” intelligences—such as spiritual intelligence, existential intelligence, and moral intelligence—but does not believe these meet his original inclusion criteria. (Gardner, 2011).
His 1983 book “Frames of Mind”, where he broadens the definition of intelligence and outlines several distinct types of intellectual competencies.
Gardner developed a series of eight inclusion criteria while evaluating each “candidate” intelligence that was based on a variety of scientific disciplines.
He writes that we may all have these intelligences, but our profile of these intelligence may differ individually based on genetics or experience.
Gardner defines intelligence as a “biopsychological potential to process information that can be activated in a cultural setting to solve problems or create products that are of value in a culture” (Gardner, 2000, p.28).
1 Linguistic Intelligence (“word smart”)
Linguistic Intelligence is a part of Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory that deals with sensitivity to the spoken and written language, ability to learn languages, and capacity to use language to accomplish certain goals.
People with linguistic intelligence, such as William Shakespeare and Oprah Winfrey, have an ability to analyze information and create products involving oral and written language such as speeches, books, and memos.
Potential Career Choices
Careers you could dominate with your linguistic intelligence:
Logical-mathematical intelligence refers to the capacity to analyze problems logically, carry out mathematical operations, and investigate issues scientifically.
People with logical-mathematical intelligence, such as Albert Einstein and Bill Gates, have an ability to develop equations and proofs, make calculations, and solve abstract problems.
Potential Career Choices
Careers you could dominate with your logical-mathematical intelligence:
3 Spatial Intelligence (“picture smart”)
Spatial intelligence features the potential to recognize and manipulate the patterns of wide space (those used, for instance, by navigators and pilots) as well as the patterns of more confined areas, such as those of importance to sculptors, surgeons, chess players, graphic artists, or architects.
People with spatial intelligence, such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Amelia Earhart, have an ability to recognize and manipulate large-scale and fine-grained spatial images.
Potential Career Choices
Careers you could dominate with your spatial intelligence:
4 Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence (“body smart”)
Bodily kinesthetic intelligence is the potential of using one’s whole body or parts of the body (like the hand or the mouth) to solve problems or to fashion products.
People with bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, such as Michael Jordan and Simone Biles, have an ability to use one’s own body to create products, perform skills, or solve problems through mind–body union.
Potential Career Choices
Careers you could dominate with your bodily-kinesthetic intelligence:
5 Musical Intelligence (“music smart”)
Musical intelligence refers to the skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of musical patterns.
People with musical intelligence, such as Beethoven and Ed Sheeran, have an ability to recognize and create musical pitch, rhythm, timbre, and tone.
Potential Career Choices
Careers you could dominate with your musical intelligence:
6 Interpersonal Intelligence (“people smart”)
Interpersonal intelligence is the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations, and desires of other people and consequently to work effectively with others.
People with interpersonal intelligence, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa, have an ability to recognize and understand other people’s moods, desires, motivations, and intentions.
Potential Career Choices
Careers you could dominate with your interpersonal intelligence:
7 Intrapersonal Intelligence (“self smart”)
Intrapersonal intelligence is the capacity to understand oneself, to have an effective working model of oneself-including own’s desires, fears, and capacities—and to use such information effectively in regulating one’s own life.
People with intrapersonal intelligence, such as Aristotle and Maya Angelou, have an ability to recognize and understand his or her own moods, desires, motivations, and intentions.
This type of intelligence can help a person to understand which life goals are important and how to achieve them.
Potential Career Choices
Careers you could dominate with your intrapersonal intelligence:
8 Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)
Naturalistic intelligence involves expertise in the recognition and classification of the numerous species—the flora and fauna—of his or her environment.
People with naturalistic intelligence, such as Charles Darwin and Jane Goddall, have an ability to identify and distinguish among different types of plants, animals, and weather formations that are found in the natural world.
Potential Career Choices
Careers you could dominate with your naturalist intelligence:
Most of the resistance to multiple intelligences theory has come from cognitive psychologists and psychometricians. Cognitive psychologists such as Waterhouse (2006) claimed that there is no empirical evidence to the validity of the theory of multiple intelligences.
Psychometricians, or psychologists involved in testing, argue that intelligence tests support the concept for a single general intelligence, “g”, rather than the eight distinct competencies (Gottfredson, 2004). Other researches argue these Gardner’s intelligences come second or third to the “g” factor (Visser, Ashton, & Vernon, 2006).
Some responses to this criticism include that the Multiple Intelligences theory doesn’t dispute the existence of the “g” factor; it proposes that it is equal along with the other intelligences. Many critics overlook the inclusion criteria set forth by Gardner.
These criteria are strongly supported by empirical evidence in psychology, biology, neuroscience, among others. Gardner admits that traditional psychologists were valid is criticizing the lack of operational definitions for the intelligences, that is, to figure out how to measure and test the various competencies (Davis et al., 2011).
Gardner was surprised to find that Multiple Intelligences theory has been used most widely in educational contexts. He developed this theory to challenge academic psychologists, and therefore did not present many educational suggestions. For this reason, teachers and educators were able to take the theory and apply it as they saw fit.
As it gained popularity in this field, Gardner has maintained that practitioners should determine the theory’s best use in classrooms. He has often declined opportunities to aid in curriculum development that uses multiple intelligences theory, opting to only provide feedback at most (Gardner, 2011).
Most of the criticism has come from those removed from the classroom, such as journalists and academics. Educators are not typically tied to the same standard of evidence and are less concerned with abstract inconsistencies, which has given them the freedom to apply it with their students and let the results speak for itself (Armstrong, 2019).
Implications for Learning
The most important educational implications from the theory of multiple intelligences can be summed up through individuation and pluralization. Individuation posits that because each person differs from other another there is no logical reason to teach and assess students identically.
Individualized education has typically been reserved for the wealthy and others who could afford to hire tutors to address individual students’ needs.
Technology has now made it possible for more people to access a variety of teachings and assessments depending on their needs. Pluralization, the idea that topics and skills should be taught in more than one way, activates individual’s multiple intelligences.
Presenting a variety of activities and approaches to learning helps reach all students and encourages them to be able to think about the subjects from various perspectives, deepening their knowledge of that topic (Gardner, 2011b).
A common misconception about the theory of multiple intelligences is that it is synonymous with learning styles. Gardner states that learning styles refer to the way an individual is most comfortable approaching a range of tasks and materials.
Multiple intelligences theory states that everyone has all eight intelligences at varying degrees of proficiency and an individual’s learning style is unrelated to the areas in which they are the most intelligent.
For example, someone with linguistic intelligence may not necessarily learn best through writing and reading. Classifying students by their learning styles or intelligences alone may limit their potential for learning.
Research shows that students are more engaged and learn best when they are given various ways to demonstrate their knowledge and skills, which also helps teachers more accurately assess student learning (Darling-Hammond, 2010).
About the Author
Michele Marenus is a research assistant at the Ecological Approaches to Social and Emotional Learning (EASEL) Lab at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She received her master’s from Harvard in 2019 in Human Development and Psychology and she will be starting her doctorate at the University of Michigan.
How to reference this article:
Marenus, M. (2020, June 09). Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligencesy. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/multiple-intelligences.html
By David Ludden.
Humans have likely been speaking since the dawn of the species a quarter million years ago. Over evolutionary time, the human brain has been molded for language, as regions such as Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas have become specialized for speech production and perception. These aren’t new brain structures or unique to humans, but their exact functions in our hominid ancestors and primate cousins are still unclear.\
Language has encroached on other functional areas of the brain as well. For example, the cerebellum, which coordinates the rhythmic movements of the limbs when walking, also guides the rhythmic production of syllables when talking. In short, natural selection has reprogrammed the human brain for speech.
Reading, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter. Almost all of us learn our mother tongue effortlessly as a normal part of growing up. But learning to read is hard work, and many of us struggle with the task even in adulthood.
In fact, reading is a very unnatural act for humans. Writing is a recent invention, going back only a few thousand years—a mere blink of the eye on the evolutionary time scale. Furthermore, the concept of universal literacy is an even more recent phenomenon, and it’s still more of a lofty goal than standard practice in many places around the world.
Reading is an unnatural task—and a difficult one for many people.
Since there’s no evolutionary history for reading and writing, it’s clear that the brain can’t be hardwired for processing written language. Instead, we make use of areas that perform other functions and retrain them to process reading and writing. Consequently, all writing systems have certain features in common that enable them to be learned by the brain.
Writing systems may represent language at the word, syllable, or phoneme (speech sound) level. But they’re all alike in terms of the symbols they use. That is, all writing systems consist of characters that are composed of lines and curves in contrasting orientations.
In other words, letters are line drawings. This is true whether the language is written with stylus on clay tablet, pen on papyrus, or ink brush on paper. And it’s not due to the limitations of the writing instruments, since all of these media can be used to produce other kinds of visual designs.
Your smart phone can read this, but your brain cannot.
Because the brain isn’t hardwired for reading, writing systems have to conform to the way the brain processes visual information. Primary visual cortex is located in the occipital lobe at the back of the head. An early process in visual perception is edge detection, and it’s one of the brain’s first steps in distinguishing the various objects in the visual array.
This early process explains why objects in line drawings are often easier to identify than in photographs. Line drawings highlight the edges of objects so your brain doesn’t have to. Thus, the brain first interprets letters as visual, not linguistic, objects.
The brain also needs a place to store information about the writing system it’s learned. Running along the bottom of the occipital lobe, where line detection takes place, and the temporal lobe, where object recognition occurs, is a structure known as the fusiform gyrus. This is an area that processes complex visual stimuli.
The fusiform gyrus processes complex visual stimuli, such as familiar faces and written words.
One function of the fusiform gyrus is face recognition. This is where we store representations for the faces of the thousands of people we know. People with damage to this area can still recognize an object as a face, but they can’t tell whose face it is. So that man across the dinner table from you could be your husband of thirty years, or it could be Brad Pitt—you just never know.
Also in the fusiform gyrus is the visual word form area. This is where the symbols of the writing system are stored, regardless of the language or the type of script. The visual word form area is informally known to language researchers as the brain’s letterbox.
The brain hasn’t evolved to process written language the way that it has for spoken language. So the discovery of the visual word form area was quite a surprise. Even more surprising was the finding that all writing systems, including the complex Chinese script, are processed in this same area.
It’s not quite clear what humans were doing with their visual word form area for hundreds of thousands of years before they started reading. Perhaps our hunter-gatherer ancestors used that portion of the brain for “reading” animal tracks and distinguishing edible from inedible plants. At any rate, writing systems have to use symbols that are similar to the kinds of information this area originally processed, and that’s why all writing systems are so similar.
This recruitment of a specific brain region for use as the visual word form area is known as neuronal recycling. That is, brain areas originally designed for one function can be reorganized to perform another, somewhat similar function. It’s neuronal recycling that gives us the ability to learn all sorts of novel complex behaviors, such as driving a car or playing the piano, that our brains weren’t preprogrammed to perform.
Changizi, M. A., & Shimojo, S. (2005). Character complexity and redundancy in writing systems over human history. Proceedings of the Royal Society, B, 272, 267–275.
Dehaene, S. (2009). Reading in the brain: The new science of how we read. New York: Hudson.
Dehaene, S., & Cohen, L. (2011). The unique role of the visual word form area in reading. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 15, 254–262.
Perfetti, C. A., & Tan, L.-H. (2013). Write to read: The brain’s universal reading and writing network. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 17, 56–57.
Zhang, M., Li, J., Chen, C., Mei, L., Xue, G., Lu, Z., . . . Dong, Q. (2013). The contribution of the left mid-fusiform cortical thickness to Chinese and English reading in a large Chinese sample. NeuroImage, 65, 250–256.
David Ludden is the author of The Psychology of Language: An Integrated Approach (SAGE Publications)
About the Author: David Ludden, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at Georgia Gwinnett College.https://www.psychologytoday.com/nz/blog/talking-apes/201501/the-brain-s-letter
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