MRI study: literate vs. illiterate subjects

For those who are interested in such things, here’s a new MRI study related to reading Chinese characters: Cognitive processing in Chinese literate and illiterate subjects: An fMRI study (also available in PDF).


Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) were used to map brain activation during language tasks. While previous studies have compared performance between alphabetic literate and illiterate subjects, there have been no such data in Chinese-speaking individuals. In this study, we used fMRI to examine the effects of education on neural activation associated with silent word recognition and silent picture-naming tasks in 24 healthy right-handed Chinese subjects (12 illiterates and 12 literates). There were 30 single Chinese characters in the silent word recognition task and 30 meaningful road-signs in the silent picture-naming task. When we compared literate and illiterate subjects, we observed education-related differences in activation patterns in the left inferior/middle frontal gyrus and both sides of the superior temporal gyrus for the silent word recognition task and in the bilateral inferior/middle frontal gyrus and left limbic cingulated gyrus for the silent picture-naming task. These results indicate that the patterns of neural activation associated with language tasks are strongly influenced by education. Education appears to have enhanced cognitive processing efficiency in language tasks.

(emphasis added)

I have a lot of objections to some of the language in the article, such as describing the subjects as “pictographic-language speakers.” And I wish the article had indicated whether any of the literate subjects were also literate in a language with an alphabetic script. Be that as it may, some may well find this of interest.

source: Human Brain Mapping, vol. 27, issue 2, pp. 144-152

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