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FENS Forum 2010 - Amsterdam

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First author: Dehaene, Stanislas (speaker)

Plenary lecture L04. Mon 05/07/2010, 08:30 - 09:30 - Plenary Hall
Session 072 - Plenary Lecture
Abstract n° 072.1
Publication ref.: FENS Abstr., vol.5, 072.1, 2010

Author Dehaene S. (1)
Addresses (1) Inserm U. 562, CEA/SAC/DSV/DRM/Neurospin, Gif-Sur-Yvette, France; (2) Collège de France, Paris, France
Title Brain changes due to reading: mapping literate and illiterate brains
Text Reading consists in accessing the language system through visual symbols. I have proposed a "neuronal recycling" hypothesis, which postulates that we acquire reading through the pre-emption and minimal reconfiguration of evolutionarily older neuronal circuits for this novel cultural use. In particular, visual word recognition invades a region that becomes the visual word form area (VWFA). This region appears to have evolved for object recognition, and its properties are only partially suited to the reading task, so that learning involves adaptation as well as partial un-learning of previous competences. I shall present several recent fMRI experiments that support this point of view. First, the peculiar phenomenon of early mirror reading, can be explained by the prior propensity of this brain area for mirror-image object recognition – a property that needs to be unlearned during reading acquisition. Second, experiments by Marcin Szwed, Laurent Cohen and I suggest that the VWFA inherits a propensity for the detection of line junctions such as T, L or Y shapes, which is useful for scene and object recognition and gets reconverted for letter shapes. Finally I will describe a collaborative fMRI project on imaging of the illiterate brain, performed in collaboration with Lucia Braga, Paulo Ventura, Régine Kolinsky, Jose Morais and others, whose results indicates that the impact of literacy is much more pervasive that just the VWFA, and extends to low-level vision as well as spoken language processing. Thus, learning to read has a profound effect and leads to a deep reconversion of several of the child's brain areas.

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