Thursday, February 7, 2013

People Use Same Brain Regions to Read Alphabetic and Logographic Languages

by AliceY, This post originally appeared at Future Science Leaders.

Studies have shown that when reading Chinese characters or French words written alphabetically, the same areas light up in our brains. This could explain why I have trouble learning how to write Chinese characters and French words.

Stanislas Dehaene, a cognitive neuroscientist at the National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Gif-sur-Yvette, France states that, “Reading involves two neural systems: one that recognizes the shape of the word and a second that assesses the physical movements used to make the marks on a page.” It is uncertain though whether the brain networks responsible for reading are universal or culturally distinct.

Dehaene and colleagues used fMRI scans to monitor the brain activity in Chinese and French people while they read their native languages. The results showed that both Chinese and French people use the visual and gestural systems while reading their native language, but they place different emphasis on certain words and phrases of their languages.

Previous studies have shown that reading triggers a shape-recognition region in the brain’s posterior left hemisphere – the visual word-forming area. However, some research has indicated that Chinese writers place more emphasis on the order and direction of writing strokes which involved other brain networks in the motor skills that are needed for writing. Exner’s area is the brain region used for writing and motor processing.

To attempt to separate the different brain regions involved in reading, Daheane and his colleagues measured Chinese and French readers’ response times in recognizing words on a screen. The subjects, however, were unaware that their responses were being controlled by a process called priming. Priming is when other words or word-like figures appear on the screen for 50 milliseconds before the target word is shown. These subliminal images can either assist or hinder the recognition process as it may affect the visual or gestural reading system.

The results from the experiment showed that both the VWFA and Exner’s area were activated in French and Chinese subjects. There are cultural differences, however, as the Chinese had a greater use of gestural direction.

Source: www. nature.com

About this contributor: An optimistic high school student, Alice enjoys expressing her thoughts and opinions through writing. She plays field hockey in her spare time.

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