Humanity has been present on the planet for quite some time, but the skills of writing and reading appeared relatively recently, a few thousand years ago. A team of researchers who wanted to learn more about the development of these skills has made a significant discovery.
Tests conducted on rhesus macaque monkeys have revealed that a region of the brain known as the inferior temporal cortex can collect and process the key aspects which are needed to decode sequences of letters and understand what they mean.
Rewired for a new purpose
Such an approach infers that an existing part of the brain was rewired to facilitate reading instead of developing a new area for this purpose. The change took place as humans became familiar with orthographic processing, or the ability to recognize written words.
The new data has offered a major bridge between the accelerated development of neural mechanisms associated with visual processing and the development of human reading, which can be included as a primate behavior. Previous research related to the inferior temporal cortex has suggested that there it plays an important role in recognition of various object types, including faces.
During a series of experiments, the researchers monitored more than 500 neural sites with the help of electrodes, which were implanted in the brains of the monkeys. The monkeys viewed a collection of more than 2,000 words and non-words, and the data collected by the electrodes was processed with a linear classifier.
According to the results, brain activity is able to provide the key data needed to perform orthographic tasks, among which we can count the ability to notice the differences between words and non-words. The linear classifier could harness the neural output to tell the difference with an accuracy of approximately 70%, with similar values being observed during a 2007 study on baboons.