A new study elaborated by a team of researchers argues that the human brain has a region which is optimized for the perception of letters and words. The region is known as the visual word form area, and it is tied to the language system of the brain.
Its traits allow the region to develop an attraction for visual words before the child is exposed to language, according to one of the researchers who contributed to the new study. A significant amount of the research is based on brain scans for newborns.
Early research argued that the pre-reading VWFA region is similar to other parts of the visual cortex, which respond to faces, objects, or scenes, and that it becomes specialized after children learn a language and start to read. However, the new research contradicts this theory.
The researchers note that VWFA is already connected to the language system of the brain at birth, which is a key detail. Scientists are fascinated by the fact that the brain can develop such regions at such a young age and the mechanism which contributes to their appearance.
While the current results are quite impressive, they also suggest that the VWFA regions change and become more refined as the babies mature. Exposure to written and spoken language will reinforce connections tied to the language system, allowing the VWFA region to become more noticeable as a person becomes more literate.
This is hard at work on a new study as it observes scans of the brains of older children in an attempt to observe how the VWFA region changes and the way in which visual traits are connected to it. One of the goals is to learn how the brain becomes used to reading. Additional knowledge could also be used to develop treatments for dyslexia and other language disorders.