Your Brain Learns New Words as Pictures So You Can Read Faster



Former MLB pitcher Jim Abbott points at a hippopotamus as he reads aloud from his book “Follow Your Dreams” to four children at the pediatric unit at Hurley Medical Center while on a citywide tour encouraging early childhood literacy, on March 19, 2015, in Flint, Michigan. JAKE MAY/THE FLINT JOURNAL/AP

Learn more about how pictures help you read faster from Newsweek’s, Stav Ziv:

When literate adults pick up a book, they don’t start sounding out each word letter by letter or sound by sound, the way their kindergarten or first-grade teacher probably told them to do when they were first beginning to read. Instead, as a new study shows, their brains recognize whole words they’ve seen before, which facilitates quicker reading.

Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center’s Department of Neuroscience published their findings Tuesday in The Journal of Neuroscience. The paper, “Adding Words to the Brain’s Visual Dictionary: Novel Word Selectively Sharpens Orthographic Representations in the VWFA,” demonstrates the brain’s ability to adapt and learn to recognize new words. The brain can add new words to its “visual dictionary” even if they are made up and have no meaning attached to them, the researchers found.

In their previous work, the researchers had shown that the area in the left side of the visual cortex—roughly behind the left ear—seemed to have a visual dictionary that recognized whole words as images. The visual word form area (VWFA), as it’s called, is opposite a similar brain area on the right side, called the fusiform face area (FFA), that quickly recognizes faces. Read more…

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