Quirks & Quarks

Illiterate adults can rewire their brains by learning to read

Illiterate adults can rewire their brains by learning to read

Scientists had to go to India to find a large number of illiterate adults in close proximity to fMRI machines

In two villages in Northern India, illiterate women learned how to read and write their mother tongue Hindi for six months. (Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics)

There's nothing quite like cracking open a new book and letting the mind go where the chapters take you. But when it comes to the act of reading, we tend to take it for granted. We see words on our computer screen, in books, on street signs. We read them and usually, we don't think a thing about it. 

But the reality is, there are still many people — who even as adults — do not know how to read. For those who do choose to open up the world of words for themselves as they get older, the result can be life changing.  And according to a new study in the journal Scientific Advances, when a grown-up learns to read, the transformation that takes place in their brain is nothing short of profound. 

Dr. Falk Huettig is the senior author of that study. He is a Senior Investigator at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, Netherlands. He says since reading is a relatively new cultural phenomena, their brains are forced to recycle and reorganize a couple of different parts of the brain for this new skill. And as Dr. Huettig says, this is proof of how flexible adult brains can be.