What happens when we read? Decoding the brain's dual networks

The brain's processing of reading is fascinating.
Abdul-Rahman Oladimeji Bello
What happens when we read
What happens when we read


Reading is a fascinating process that engages many regions of our brain. We all know it's an essential skill, but did you know that reading is like weightlifting for our minds? The more we read, the stronger our neural connections become, and the better we get at it. But what happens in our brains when we read? Scientists have been trying to answer this question for years, and a new study has finally shed some light on the matter.

A groundbreaking study led by neuroscientist Oscar Woolnough from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston shed new light on how our brains process language. According to the research, two distinct brain networks get activated while reading. 

The research team used an innovative approach to study the brain activity of 36 people with intracranial electrodes implanted as part of epilepsy treatment. By recording their neural activity while they read, the researchers were able to observe how different parts of the brain worked together to make sense of words.

What happens when we read? Decoding the brain's dual networks
Human brain

The researchers instructed the participants to read three types of texts: meaningful sentences, a list of words, and sentences that used correct grammar but had made-up words, which the researchers called 'Jabberwocky' sentences. The results were fascinating.

Their findings revealed two adjacent brain networks collaborating to make sense of what we read. The first network, involving the brain's frontal lobe sending signals to the temporal lobe, is activated as a person begins deciphering the meaning within a sentence. This process resembles piecing together a linguistic puzzle, with each word contributing to the overall message.

The second network uses another section of the temporal lobe. It sends signals back to the frontal lobe. Interestingly, this network was more activated by words in a list rather than by entire sentences. This suggests that the second network plays a crucial role in enhancing our understanding of individual words.

"This study helps us better understand how distributed hubs in the brain's language network work together and interact to allow us to understand complex sentences," says Woolnough. 

The implications of the research

This pioneering research opens the door to a deeper comprehension of how our brains process language. It also paves the way for potential advancements in education, neurology, and artificial intelligence. As we unravel the complexities of our brain's inner workings, we can truly appreciate the extraordinary power of our minds in making sense of the written word.

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