Learning to read as an adult can rewire your brain

Today, the ability to read is necessary to almost all of our daily activities, unfortunately, many adults can not read or write. Moreover,, many adults refuse to learn new things such as to read and to write because they believe that learning new things become more difficult over the years. That their brains can't be changed at that point. 

But new research suggests that learning to read can literally change how the brain works, even in regions that aren’t usually associated with reading and writing.

That’s what a group of researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, found when they taught a group of illiterate Hindi-speaking Indian adults in their thirties to read and write. The scientists studied adults instead of children because kids’ brains are more flexible and would be more interesting to study how the adult brain works. 

“We’re trying to understand the basic principle of how the brain works,” said Falk Huettig, one of the researchers. “One good way to figure out how the brain works is to look at cultural inventions, things like reading that are fairly recent in the history of humans.” 

The scientists studied two groups of adults. Both groups had their brains scanned in an fMRI machine. Afterwards, the first group took six months of literacy instruction in the Devanagari script, a writing system used for several languages including Hindi. The other group received no instruction. After six months, the researches scanned their subjects again.

At the end of the study, the researchers discovered that the group who received literacy instruction showed significant changes in their brains. Showing that only 6 months of literacy training can lead to neuroplastic changes in the mature brain. This suggest that adults brains are still quite adaptable.

Moreover, because reading requires pattern recognition, and decoding symbols to create a meaning, learning to read also seemed to change brain regions that aren’t typically involved in reading, writing or learning. The researchers believe these findings can help better understand reading disorders like dyslexia.