Dehaene, Stanislas. “Inside the Letterbox: How Literacy Transforms the Human Brain.” Cerebrum (2013).
Learning to read is a major event in a child’s life. Cognitive neuroscience shows why: compared to the brain of an illiterate person, the literate brain is massively changed, mostly for the better—through the enhancement of the brain’s visual and phonological areas and their interconnections—but also slightly for the worse, as the displacement of the brain’s face-recognition circuits reduces the capacity for mirror invariance. Once children learn to read, their brains are literally different. Now that we understand exactly which circuits are changed by reading education, we may start thinking about how to optimize this process, particularly for children who struggle in school. Training preschoolers with just a few hours of GraphoGame—fun software that links graphemes and phonemes—is enough to enhance the representation of letters in the cortex. By monitoring children’s progress by their behavior as well as by brain imaging, we now have all the necessary tools to better understand what schools do and facilitate enhanced learning strategies.