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Reading: The Brain’s Best Hijacker

What are you doing right now? I’m no psychic, but I can say for certain that what you’re doing is reading.

The act of reading is a uniquely human cognitive process that involves extracting meaning from written symbols. Our ancestors began using symbols to convey meaningful sounds around 3500 B.C., which means that reading is a relatively new invention in the grand scheme of human evolution. Unlike basic sensory systems like vision and hearing, which are not cultural inventions, reading has not been around long enough to demand a functionally specialized brain region. As such, it is unclear which brain circuits are consistently used across the population to read, and why.

One popular theory to address this question is neuronal recycling, which proposes that existing neurons have been reused to perform processes necessary for reading. This theory was specifically developed by researchers at the College de France to tackle the issue of reading. As we read, we perform three specific processes: seeing a word, determining its meaning, and sounding it out.

While reading is a vital skill in today's society, it is not without its challenges. A 2017 study found that scrolling through digital text may impair comprehension by creating spatial challenges, while the constant flickering glow of LED screens can cause visual and mental fatigue. However, technology can also provide solutions to improve reading, such as e-readers with e-ink technology that reduce eyestrain.

To improve reading comprehension, experts suggest slowing down and handwriting main takeaways from digital texts, as handwriting is a superior memory tool. Additionally, taking breaks from the digital world and reading physical books can provide sensorimotor cues that enhance cognitive processing.

For those who need extra help with reading, resources like Learn with Koala and individual tutors who specialize in teaching reading can be valuable tools. By working with experienced educators, individuals can improve their reading skills and strengthen the neural processes necessary for this vital cognitive activity. You can find and book those classes at this page.

Happy Learning!

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