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Why We Read Everything We See
March 14, 2006 15:16


Scientists study human brain for a long time, trying to find regions, which are responsible for various actions an organism performs. This study area still has many secrets, and reading is one of them. Scientists know quite a lot about reading aloud, bit little is known about silent reading, text analysis during reading and brain regions, involved in this process. This problem was the object for studies of scientists from Saint Petersburg Institute for Human Brain Studies (Russian Academy of Sciences). They have found out that human being usually analyzes connected text automatically, even when there’s no need to; and while analyzing, human brain activates same regions as during reading aloud or listening to someone’s reading.

Eight educated adult volunteers with normal eyesight have taken part in the experiment. The testees were supposed to look at the text line, moving on the monitor at the rate of 360 signs per minute. They didn’t need to read the text, but to count how many times a certain letter appears in the text. Bright yellow text line over dark-grey background was either a connected, emotionally neutral text, or a senseless mixture of words and letter combinations. While testees counted letters, scientists have detected brain regions, which were active during task performance, by means of positron emission tomography. They have found that brain cortex zones, which are active during counting letters in a connected text, are the same zones, active while reading or listening. When one analyses a random set of words or pseudo-words (letter combinations), the situation is different – brain cortex activates its zones, responsible for visual information processing. When human brain counts letters in a random set of words, it appears to analyze shape of letters.

One glance at a connected text seems to be enough to launch automatic processing of the text, even when the task is to find certain letters. Some testees said that the most difficult task was searching for letters in connected texts, because it’s hard to force oneself not to read it. The interesting fact is – such brain response is caused only by meaningful texts. If analyzed text consists of pseudo-words, though arranged according to grammar rules, brain perceives the trick immediately. Brain is never disoriented with correct grammar structures, thus doesn’t launch reading process. The form of information is not sufficient for reading; it needs some meaning.

Tags: Russian Scientists     

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