Washington: When we look at a new word, out brain first learns the word and then sees it like a picture, instead of a group of letters.
The finding from Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) shows that the brain learns words quickly by tuning neurons to respond to a complete word, not parts of it.
Study's senior author, Maximilian Riesenhuber, PhD said that the neurons respond differently to real words, such as turf, than to nonsense words, such as turt, showing that a small area of the brain is "holistically tuned" to recognize complete words.
Neurons in a small brain area remember how the whole word looks, using what could be called a visual dictionary, he added.
This small area in the brain, called the visual word form area, is found in the left side of the visual cortex, opposite from the fusiform face area on the right side, which remembers how faces look. One area is selective for a whole face, allowing us to quickly recognize people, and the other is selective for a whole word, which helps us read quickly, Riesenhuber said.
The study asked 25 adult participants to learn a set of 150 nonsense words. The brain plasticity associated with learning was investigated with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), both before and after training.
The findings not only help reveal how the brain processes words, but also provides insights into how to help people with reading disabilities, says Riesenhuber.
The study is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.