High literacy may come at cost of some social skills

There are few things more awkward than introducing yourself a second time to somebody you’ve just met, unless it’s having to admit to the person you’ve been talking with for the past hour that you’ve forgotten their name. Scientists say they may have found the culprit for poor facial recognition and its associated embarrassments – literacy.

A new fMRI study, led by French neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene, tests his “neuronal recycling” theory: Conscious thought and culture build on features of the brain that were already firmly established and used for other purposes instead of having their own areas of the brain – for example, visual acuity once used for tracking animals during the hunt now goes to tracing the curve of an s or the cross of a t.

The study, published in Science, indicates that avid readers might be sacrificing up more of their brain to reading, which could interfere with the ability to distinguish faces.

The study dovetails with one published last year by Manuel Carreiras at the Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language showing that brains of those who can read are structurally different from brains of those who are functionally illiterate.

Reading doesn’t just function as an inhibitor for facial recognition – it carries myriad benefits as well. Literacy appears to enhance visual and linguistic functions and trigger dramatic changes in the way information is processed. So when you can’t remember the name of your newest friend, you’re not rude – you’re just cognitively reorganized.

Source: How Learning to Read Changes the Cortical Networks for Vision and Language
Source: New Scientist
Source: Smithsonian

Leave a Reply

Cognitive Science News