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Part of Newborn Brain Capable of Seeing Words, New Study Suggests

Part of Newborn Brain Capable of Seeing Words, New Study Suggests

Thursday, 29 October, 2020 - 06:00
A baby crawls during the Baby Race event to mark international Children's Day in Vilnius, Lithuania, June 1, 2019. Mindaugas Kulbis/AP

Humans are born with a part of the brain that is prewired to be receptive to seeing words and letters, setting the stage at birth for people to learn how to read, a new study suggests.

Analyzing brain scans of newborns, researchers found that this part of the brain – called the "visual word form area" (VWFA) – is connected to the language network of the brain, the German News Agency reported.

"That makes it fertile ground to develop sensitivity to visual words – even before any exposure to language," said Zeynep Saygin, senior author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at The Ohio State University. According to the Science Daily website, the VWFA is specialized for reading only in literate individuals.

Some researchers had hypothesized that the pre-reading VWFA starts out being no different than other parts of the visual cortex that are sensitive to seeing faces, scenes or other objects, and only becomes selective to words and letters as children learn to read or at least as they learn language.

"We found that isn't true. Even at birth, the VWFA is more connected functionally to the language network of the brain than it is to other areas. It is an incredibly exciting finding," Saygin said.

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