Neurons That Know Words

§ April 30th, 2009 § Filed under brain research, neuroscience, plasticity § No Comments

As reported in today’s issue of Neuron, researchers from the department of neuroscience at Georgetown University Medical Center have identified neurons that show a preference for complete, real words. They found them in the brain’s “visual word form” area.

Maximilian Riesenhuber

Maximilian Riesenhuber

“Although some theories of reading, as well as some neuropsychological and experimental data, have argued for the existence of a neural representation for whole real words, experimental evidence for such a representation has been elusive,” said Dr. Maximilian Riesenhuber.

As with other recent studies the researchers used real-time brain scans of participants to detect activation of specific regions of the brain as they completed tasks involving real words and nonsense words.

The left visual word form area consistently displayed a highly selective preference for real words over jibberish.

According to Riesenhuber, “These results are not just relevant for theories of reading and reading acquisitions, but also for our understanding of the mechanisms underlying experience-driven cortical plasticity in general.”

By which I suppose he means that our brains most likely develop specific and highly targeted responses to information that makes sense and has meaning.

“It will be interesting in future studies to investigate how the specificity of the representation in the VWFA changes during development, and how it might differ in individuals with reading disorders,” he added.

Leave a Response