Washington, March 25 (IANS) When we look at a known word, our brain sees it like a picture, not a group of letters needing to be processed, reveals a new research.
The study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, shows the brain learns words quickly by tuning neurons to respond to a complete word, not parts of it.
Neurons respond differently to real words, such as turf, than to nonsense words such as turt, showing that a small area of the brain is “holistically tuned” to recognise complete words, according to researchers.
“We are not recognising words by quickly spelling them out or identifying parts of words as some researchers have suggested.
“Instead, neurons in a small brain area remember how the whole word looks — using what could be called a visual dictionary,” explained the study’s senior author Maximilian Riesenhuber from Georgetown University Medical Centre (GUMC).
The study asked 25 adult participants to learn a set of 150 nonsense words. The brain plasticity associated with learning was investigated with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), both before and after training.
Using a specific fMRI technique, the investigators found that the visual word form area changed as the participants learned the nonsense words.
Before training the neurons responded like the training words were nonsense words, but after training the neurons responded to the learned words like they were real words.
“This study is the first of its kind to show how neurons change their tuning with learning words, demonstrating the brain’s plasticity,” said lead author Laurie Glezer.
The findings not only help reveal how the brain processes words but also provides insights into how to help people with reading disabilities.
“For people who cannot learn words by phonetically spelling them out — which is the usual method for teaching reading — learning the whole word as a visual object may be a good strategy,” Riesenhuber said.