Scientists confirm new hypotheses about the brain’s ability to make sense of words

  • Scientists have used brain mapping technologies to monitor the activity in different parts of the brain with respect to perceiving different words.
  • Researchers have proposed two new contradictory hypotheses relating to a person’s ability to perceive sounds with the symmetry of the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
  • These new discoveries can help doctors in their course to predict and understand more about the natural history of diseases such as dyslexia.

The brain is a highly complex organ made up of billions of cells called neurons. Neurons send and receive messages to and from all parts of your body. These messages are electrical impulses that create brain waves. Our brain can be compared to a dark night sky and the framework of neurons within, which fire repeatedly to promote the various functions of our sensory system such as sight, hearing, and so on, are the magnificent fireworks. The neurons are essentially brain cells that “synapse” or in simple terms remain interlinked to each other to allow transmission of electric current through them. This electric current, observed in pulses when the neurons fire, when mapped, appears as bright fireworks or shooting stars.

Now scientists have made an advancement in the field of brain mapping and understanding of the concept of the senses and how they’re perceived in various areas or cortexes of the brain. Scientists have confirmed two new hypotheses about the brain’s inherent ability to make sense of words instantaneously. But to understand the hypotheses which have been put forth by them, let’s first understand what exactly is brain mapping.

Brain mapping and its advances

According to the definition established in 2013 by Society for Brain Mapping and Therapeutics (SBMT), brain mapping is defined as the study of the anatomy and function of the brain as well as the spinal cord through the use of imaging, immunohistochemistry, stem cell, and cellular biology, engineering, neurophysiology, and nanotechnology.

In simple terms, the brain map, also called a neuro map, is important tool scientists use to evaluate one’s brainwaves and identify opportunities to improve communication between various regions of the brain in case of diseases. The brain map can capture a window of brain activity, analyze the data, and create a visual representation for each lobe of the brain and each specific brain wave which in turn are of four types, Delta, Theta, Alpha, and Beta.

Brain mapping works by using a cap placed on the scalp, the software captures the electrical impulses in the brain. This method is known as an electroencephalogram (EEG). The results show brain wave patterns in different parts of the brain. The process takes about 15 minutes, and the data is then converted into a visual brain map report. This method can be further supplemented by radiological methods such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging(MRI).

Furthermore, the scientists analyze the brain map report and identify any problem areas. The report will display the results in a clear and concise format that can be easily understood and includes details regarding the magnitude, asymmetry and frequency of the four brain waves that is, Delta, Theta, Alpha, Beta along with a discriminant and midline analysis.

The brain and its ability to perceive words

The brain has the intrinsic ability to look at even abstract symbols and “map” them onto, or associate them with sounds. However, to be considered a proficient reader one should be able to use the existing knowledge to make sense of the text that he is reading and is unknown to him. Not only that, but one should also be able to use phonemes i.e the sounds of one’s language to process written or spoken language. This process is called phonological processing.

With respect to this, recently scientists have developed two contrasting hypotheses about the reading ability of the brain and how it differs amongst people. They have equated the reading ability of the brain to its inborn structure.

The two new hypotheses

In the present scientific environment, it’s already difficult to find one proper hypothesis with enough data support to prove your claim. But in this case, the scientists involved not only found just one rather two different hypotheses but also had enough support for both of the theories on how the brain structure of a person is related to his or her reading skills.

The first hypothesis – Cerebral Lateralization

To understand this theory one must have a basic understanding of the brain anatomy and how it functions. The human brain is basically asymmetrical. The left side of the brain is considered to be the digital brain. It is associated with important tasks like analytical thinking, and verbal ability and is considered to be more orderly than the right hemisphere of the brain. On the other hand, the right side of the brain is responsible for cognitive functions such as attention, implied meanings, reading between the lines and processing of shapes and other visuals. The right side is associated with one’s creativity and artistic abilities while the left side is primarily responsible for the methodical functions performed by the brain.

According to the cerebral lateralization hypothesis, scientists suggest that the reading ability of the brain is directly related to its symmetry. They claim that more symmetry equals greater reading ability.

The Second Hypothesis: The Canalisation Hypothesis

As mentioned earlier it is quite evident that the left side of our human brain is responsible for the reading abilities that we possess. The scientists behind this theory claim that the asymmetries which are present on the left side of the brain simply reinforce the traits which are required for reading. They claim that the symmetry of the brain is not related to one’s reading abilities thus contraindicating the first theory.  Not only that, but they also have gone on to say that if a person’s brain is symmetrical then his reading abilities are nothing but “average”. Hence, this is a direct clash with the previous hypothesis where scientists actually equated the reading abilities of a person to how symmetrical his brain was.

The implications

The evolution of these new hypotheses can help in explaining a number of organic disease conditions. The most important of these is dyslexia. Dyslexia, also known as reading disorder, is a disorder characterized by reading below the expected level for their age group. Different people are affected to different degrees. Problems may include difficulties in spelling words, reading quickly, writing words, “sounding out” words in the head, pronouncing words when reading aloud, and understanding what one reads.

Neuroimaging techniques, such as brain mapping combined with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET), have successfully shown a correlation between both functional and structural differences in the brains of children with reading difficulties. Some people with dyslexia show less electrical activation in parts of the left hemisphere of the brain involved with reading. Other factors included genetic factors and the interaction of a person’s inborn genotype with various environmental factors. Hence scientists can hope to explain many other phenomena with the means of these newly found revolutionary hypotheses.

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