The Literate Brain

Posted on April 12, 2017

Photo: flickr

The brains of those who can read are very different from that of those who have never learnt to read. In fact, reading occupies a specific section of the brain: the left ventral occipital temporal region. This means that should this region of the brain sustain any form of injury, the person’s ability to read will also be affected. In addition to this, there are many more general changes in the brain that occur in the minds of the literate; physically, they have a thicker corpus callosum, which means that more information is being transported across the two hemispheres of the brain. When they hear words being spoken, a larger region and pattern of brain activation is also noted in the literate. Furthermore, they can remember verbal information for a longer period of time, perhaps because the words that they hear are processed on a deeper level.

In view of these specific differences in brain function of the literate, it is unsurprising that being able to read also affects our information processing skills in a broader, more overarching sense. Since the literate “give” their brains more complex commands, they utilise more of their brains and get more in return. It is a prevailing trend for a country’s average IQ score to go up as it becomes more economically developed; this is concrete proof of how increased literacy will boost IQ scores. Nonetheless, there are many other factors that can cause a rise in IQ scores as a country progresses, such as improved nutrition and prenatal health, which would lead to fewer occurrences of babies born with low birth weight. A corresponding decrease in family sizes and increase in the complexity of our everyday lives could also contribute to an overall increase in IQ scores.

Since we are aware of physiological changes in our brains when we learn to read, it is highly plausible for us to contend that the increase in our intelligence can at least partially be related to our literacy. In fact, there is a strong correlation between the number of years children spend in school and their IQ scores, and this is not because more intelligent children are expected to complete more years of school. Given education’s, and hence literacy’s, potential to increase our IQ scores, it would perhaps be prudent for third-level education to be implemented as a civil right in the developed parts of the world. This would also have long-term benefits for the country’s economy and state of well-being.

Aside from the economic benefits of literacy and hence higher education, being literate also has a positive impact on our health and life expectancy. It has been postulated that this could be related to the functioning of the brain itself; since the more literate use their brains for more complex functions, their brains would perhaps be less prone to senility and the neurodegenerative side effects of old age. Dementia, a neurodegenerative disease, is often a forewarning of death. The deterioration in the functioning of capillaries in the brain can cause neurons to receive insufficient nutrients that they need for information processing. In fact, this is one of the leading causes of dementia. Arguably, just as physical exercise has long term benefits on cardiovascular health, mental exercise has long term benefits on mental health, or the overall health of the human brain. Since the literate and well-educated place greater demands on their brains all throughout their lives, the neural circuits in their brains are highly used and will not break down as easily.

In conclusion, it is clear that the brain reacts positively to literacy and text in ways that improve our well-being and intelligence. Despite an onslaught of negative findings regarding the effects of new media such as television and the Internet on our brains, it is high time that we acknowledge what being literate, combined with our perpetual thirst for information, has done for our brain function.

Category(s):Academic Issues

Source material from Psychology Today

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