December 4, 2017, Italian Academy, Columbia University
The remarkable plasticity of the human brain allows it to acquire new abilities through schooling and education. Reading acquisition recycles several pre-existing visual and auditory areas in order to reorient them to the processing of letters and phonemes. Comparisons of literate and illiterate brains have revealed three major sites of enhancement due to schooling: the early visual cortex, the « visual word form area » (a region specializing for the visual recognition of letter strings) and the planum temporale (a region involved in phonological processing). Dr. Stanislas Dehaene presents a novel longitudinal study in which individual children were repeatedly scanned every two months during the first year of school. The results paint a detailed picture of how the ventral visual cortex and associated language areas are changed, and how reading acquisition competes with the cortical representation of faces. Dr. Dehaene also shows how mathematics affects brain activity, particularly by enhancing the responsivity to numbers and mathematical expressions in ventral visual cortex.
Speaker and respondents discuss the implications of this work and how our growing understanding of the neuroscience of reading and mathematics may have important consequences for education and other fields.
Moderated by Aniruddha Das, Associate Professor of Neuroscience, Columbia University.