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Reading instruction causes changes in category-selective visual cortex

By Jason Yeatman, Sendy Caffarra, Maggie Clark, Suzanne M Ender, Liesbeth Gijbels, Sung Jun Joo, Emily C Kubota, Patricia K Kuhl, Eric Larson, Daniel R. McCloy, Gabrielle O'Brien, Erica R Peterson, Megumi E Takada, Samu Taulu

Posted 06 Feb 2022
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2022.02.02.477919

Education sculpts specialized neural circuits for skills like reading that are critical to success in modern society but were not anticipated by the selective pressures of evolution. Does the emergence of brain regions that selectively process novel visual stimuli like words occur at the expense of cortical representations of other stimulus categories like faces and objects? To answer this question we designed a randomized controlled trial where pre-literate children (five years of age) were randomly assigned to intervention programs that either taught reading skills (Letter Intervention) or oral language comprehension skills (Language Intervention). Magnetoencephalography (MEG) data collected before and after the interventions revealed that being assigned to the Letter versus Language Intervention induced different patterns of changes in category selective responses in high-level visual cortex. We found moderate support for the notion that words compete with other objects for cortical territory as children become attuned to this new class of visual stimuli. How these changes play out over a longer timescale is still unclear but, based on these data, we can surmise that high-level visual cortex undergoes rapid changes as children enter school and begin establishing new skills like literacy.

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