How Learning to Read Changes Evolutionary Ancient Visual Abilities
A defining characteristic of Homo sapiens as a species is its ability to invent and culturally transmit technologies that have transformed life on Earth. Written language, one such human cultural invention, is far too recent for dedicated cognitive processing routines as well as neural infrastructure to have evolved in its service. How, then, do we accomplish this remarkable feat? In my talk I will focus on visual processing and show how learning to read co-opts but also changes evolutionary ancient visual abilities. First, I will present behavioural evidence that reading acquisition requires the ‘un-learning’ of the evolutionary-old and cross-species mechanism of mirror invariance (the tendency to process mirror images as equivalent), and the extent to which this depends on the particular writing systems the reader has learned. Second, I will show how learning to read ‘recycles’ evolutionarily older circuits in the brain that originally evolved for different, but similar functions, such as face recognition recognition. I will present evidence that suggests that such recycling does not adversely affect visual abilities such as face recognition in literates (as previously had been thought) but instead fine-tunes general object recognition mechanism.