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Brain’s reading centre isn’t picky about vision

It doesn’t matter if people are reading with their eyes or by their hands.

Written by New York Times |
February 20, 2011 11:05:11 pm

The part of the brain thought to be responsible for processing visual text may not require vision at all,researchers report in the journal Current Biology.

This region,known as the visual word form area,processes words when people with normal vision read,but researchers found that it is also activated when the blind read using Braille.

“It doesn’t matter if people are reading with their eyes or by their hands,” said Amir Amedi,a neuroscientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and one of the study’s authors. “They are processing words.”

The research counters the textbook belief that the brain is a sensory organ,in which various regions govern activities of the different senses,like sight,sound and touch.

Instead,Dr Amedi said,the brain is a task machine.

“What we suggest is that what this area is doing is building the shape of the words,even though we call it the visual word form area,” he said. Amedi and his colleagues ran functional M.R.I. scans on eight adults with congenital blindness as they read using Braille.

He and his colleagues belong to a small community of neuroscientists who are trying to demonstrate that the brain’s regions are multisensory. Although the theory has not become mainstream,it has been gaining acceptance in the past decade.

“We hope that this paper will be another break in convincing people,”Amedi said. “But one or two or 10 papers is not enough to change the textbook. It might take another decade,so we can prove that we haven’t missed something.”SINDYA N. BHANOO

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