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Unlike other human skills such as speaking, seeing, or walking, reading must be learned and automated. The acquisition of this ability appears to be due to the ability of the brain to change plastic forms during postnatal development. And it is here at this point where we ask ourselves:what happens in children's brains when they learn to read?
Learn to read It is an activity that has a great impact on the brain of children. We've rounded up some of the biggest changes in visual processing.
1. The area that looks at the words is modified
It has been observed that in people who have not learned to read and in children with reading problems, the brain area called 'visual word form area' (VWFA, for its acronym in English and located in the occipito-temporal cortex which is part of the ventral visual pathway) present a lower functional response when observing letters and is activated only by stimuli such as faces and images.
On the contrary, those who have learned to read in different modalities, including Braille, present a greater activation of this area (as observed in images obtained by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and evoked potentials). The specificity of this area for reading is quickly and clearly observed in 9-year-old children, who have been learning to read between 2 and 3 years, and in 6-year-old children, who are beginning to learn compared to children who are still They do not do it.
Likewise, it has been observed that people who read show an increase in the activation of the primary visual area (V1) as well as greater abilities in actions that involve this brain area, such as the speed in processing figures on the background, in integration and transposition tasks among other.
2. Faces are beginning to be recognized
Another change that occurs while learning to read occurs in structures of the ventral visual pathway, such as the left facial fusiform area, related to face recognition. This area borders the VWFA area and the VWFA area changes as the reading is acquired.
Thus, when fMRI images are obtained in response to the presence of different types of faces, the responses of this limit zone experience an interhemispheric shift during learning. Responses in the left hemisphere become slightly smaller and significantly increase in the right fusiform gyrus.
This also occurs more clearly in literate individuals and to a lesser extent in illiterates. That is to say, the ability to recognize faces seems to move towards the right hemisphere with literacy, possibly because the left hemisphere would somehow become specialized in identifying letters and symbols.
3. Changes occur in areas related to the Mirror Invariance effect
The Mirror Invariance effect is the ability to recognize a visual image as identical after a left-right inversion. This effect is useful in the natural world where we must recognize the same element in varied orientations, however, it is not so useful for reading, when it is necessary to discriminate letters such as' p 'and' q ', or' b 'y' d ', images that when inverted are identical, but that represent different things (mirror letters).
Thus, learning to read may require 'unlearning' or 'modification' of this effect (for this type of stimulus), which would mean differences in visual judgments about them between people who read and those who do not.
Several studies have shown that illiterate people respond with similar times to the same visual stimuli in different positions (since it is natural for the brain to treat them as equivalents), while literate people take longer to discriminate. This could explain why children at the beginning of learning to read tend to confuse these types of letters by making inversions, which little by little disappears with practice.
Although you can learn to read from a very early age (3-4 years, as observed in children with high abilities) and that is something that just as we cannot force, we cannot prevent, Most studies agree that the best age to learn to read is around 6-7 years.
And why this age? Because it is when the synaptic connections of the brain are assumed and these are at the best moment for this learning. At previous ages it is recommended to stimulate aspects that will favor this learning such as the ability to name, attention processes, perceptual and executive function.
It is also important that parents read a lot of stories, fables or poetry to children. In this way, in addition to plunging them fully into a fantasy world where they can unleash their imagination and creativity, they will discover everything they are missing if they don't have a book in their hands.
And, something fundamental, let them see us read. Parents are the mirror where children look at themselves and in the early years they learn by imitation. If we want children to read, let's read!
Other recommendations that can be made to parents with children who are in the process of acquiring this skill is to use the stories with pictograms. Here you have a selection!
You can read more articles similar to What changes in children's brains when they learn to read, in the Reading on site category.