We read in pictures not words

Lona Middleton
Staff Writer
By Henry Vandyke Carter

By Henry Vandyke Carter

Written language is relatively young in the wide span of language itself. There are a number of scientists out there researching  how reading and writing work in our brains. The reason that they wonder about this is it stands to reason that there is no way our brains could have evolved a separate mechanism for understanding what we read and recognize in writing.

The language change has been very quick and far too fast for evolutionary means. This leads us to a few years ago when some scientists discovered that when we read or see words that are easily recognizable, a part of our brain becomes active, a visual center to be precise.

According to a study that has been published in Journal of Neuroscience, this evidence led the researchers and scientist to hypothesize that instead of reading a string of letters to form a word, we see and recognize the word and form a picture for it in our mind as we read. Our brains are forming what can be called a picture dictionary and, as we see the word, it is recognized in its entirety as a picture representation of what the word is. We could see the word “dog” and not actually read it. Our brain instantly recognizes that grouping of letters as a word and gives us the picture of a dog instead of the word.

By El coleccionista de instantes, commons.wikimedia.org

Let us assume we are seeing words we don’t recognize. The brain reads the letters and tries to associate the grouped letters as a picture but nothing comes. Then if a person is taught what the unknown word means the brain will, from that point on, associate a picture with the word rather than the sound of the separate letters alone.

This is actually a huge leap forward in not only understanding how the brain works but it could be vastly beneficial to people that have reading disorders. It may turn out to be a viable approach to teach people to recognize entire words as pictures rather than phonetically sounding out the word to gather its meaning.


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