Recently in Reading and the Brain Category

Does reading achievement spur independent reading, or vice versa?

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From ScienceDaily Digest

To better understand what causes what and also to determine what role genetics play, researchers in this study looked at reading achievement and independent reading in 436 pairs of identical and same-sex nonidentical twins at age 10 and again a year later at 11. Reading achievement was assessed using standard measures of word recognition (recognizing single words) and reading comprehension. Independent reading was assessed by asking each twin questions about his or her motivation to read. Parents estimated how often their children read for pleasure.

The study found that children's reading achievement at age 10 predicted their independent reading at 11, regardless of how much independent reading they were doing at 10, suggesting that reading achievement influenced later independent reading. The reverse was not true. After accounting for reading achievement at age 10, independent reading at 10 didn't predict reading achievement at 11.
From a paper by:
Nicole Harlaar, Kirby Deater-Deckard, Lee A. Thompson, Laura S. DeThorne, Stephen A. Petrill. Associations Between Reading Achievement and Independent Reading in Early Elementary School: A Genetically Informative Cross-Lagged Study. Child Development, 2011

Will reading diminish stereotype threat and sharpen expectations?

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Something interesting I read today... Crossposted from Derek Bowd's Mindblog (one of my favorite blogs to read).....

An everyday instance of how your thinking affects other people's being is the Pygmalion effect. Psychologists Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson captured this effect in a classic 1963 study. After giving an IQ test to elementary school students, the researchers told the teachers which students would be "academic spurters" because of their allegedly high IQs. In reality, these students' IQs were no higher than those of the "normal" students. At the end of the school year, the researchers found that the "spurters'" had attained better grades and higher IQs than the "normals." The reason? Teachers had expected more from the spurters, and thus given them more time, attention, and care. And the conclusion? Expect more from students, and get better results.

A less sanguine example of how much our thoughts affect other people's I's is stereotype threat. Stereotypes are clouds of attitudes, beliefs, and expectations that follow around a group of people. A stereotype in the air over African Americans is that they are bad at school. Women labor under the stereotype that they suck at math. As social psychologist Claude Steele and others have demonstrated in hundreds of studies, when researchers conjure these stereotypes--even subtly, by, say, asking people to write down their race or gender before taking a test--students from the stereotyped groups score lower than the stereotype-free group. But when researchers do not mention other people's negative views, the stereotyped groups meet or even exceed their competition. The researchers show that students under stereotype threat are so anxious about confirming the stereotype that they choke on the test. With repeated failures, they seek their fortunes in other domains. In this tragic way, other people's thoughts deform the I's of promising students.

As the planet gets smaller and hotter, knowing that "You think, therefore I am" could help us more readily understand how we affect our neighbours and how our neighbours affect us. Not acknowledging how much we impact each other, in contrast, could lead us to repeat the same mistakes.
To me this all seems like a great argument for A LOT more reading, especially by people most subject to stereotype threat, that I presume diminishes when interacted with mindfulness/discernment, both of which I assume are enhanced by a repertoire of empowering fiction.  Reading also creates in your mind a character (the proverbial teacher) who expects more from you.  You have to live up to the expectations of he character.  Did any boy reading Catcher in the Rye not think that Holden might be evaluating him for whether he was a phony?
Encylopedia.jpgOne of my favorite book series as a child was Encyclopedia Brown, and my daughter and her friends are enjoying their new 3rd grade teacher who is a big fan.  The teacher reads chapters in class (each chapter is a "case") and the girls are all reading them on their own at night.  So earlier in the week, on the 20 min. drive to soccer practice, they all started sharing EB stories.  Then they started making up their own.  What struck me was the amazing role children's fiction was playing.  All of the girls loved the books, and had read a bunch of the cases, but they struggled to clearly summarize the key points of a case, and when they tried to make up their own cases their minds would quickly digress to details ("The Ipod that he stole was red... no yellow... no it was silver... and it had a leather case... and it was hanging on the doorknob...") and they would forget their train of thought, and then start all over.  I loved seeing how their brains were not yet capable of formulating a whole case as an "entity" in memory.... they just could not "see" in their brains the whole picture.  That, of course, is precisely the point... reading and retelling the stories is creating and enhancing that capacity to retain a complex narrative (and in this case a logical sequence.... what's amazing is the peppering of "if...then" statements when they talk about Encyclopedia Brown). 

A long ramble... I'm trying to be more observant of the fiction practices of my own children.

BTW, one of the common things we observe in the libraries is how people who have never done play puzzles take an amazingly long time to solve 10-20 piece puzzles.  The spatial sense is just not at hand without practice in childhood.  But it only takes a few practice sessions to get people up to speed.  Does it mean anything?  Dunno, and dubious, cause the same people always beat the pants off me in bottle-cap checkers or pebble Mankala.... But others have observed the same thing, and Chris Blattman says he collects a lot of data on puzzle solving so we'll see... hopefully he also asks if they have solved puzzles before, otherwise the variation doesn't reflect cognitive ability... maybe he should also have subjects play checkers...

How much information is there in the world?

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The forgot to say that the brain in question was reading an especially good book.

In 2007, all the general-purpose computers in the world computed 6.4 x 10^18 instructions per second, in the same general order of magnitude as the number of nerve impulses executed by a single human brain.
From Science Daily Digest

Who needs to feel good today about the human race?

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Deric Bownds' MindBlog helps everyone feel good.  I love the summary of Pinker that is the second great scientific concept.  Reminds me of how the government of Burkina is constantly touting economic and social reform as gagnant-gagnant.... win-win!  It ireally is true... did Henry VIII go around saying, "This will be win-win."?

Deric Bownds' MindBlog   Improving your cognitive toolkit - part II
This posts continues my abstracting of some of my favorite responses to the annual question "What scientific concept would improve everybody's cognitive toolkit?"

Martin Seligman - PERMA Is global well being possible?...The elements of well being must be exclusive, measurable independently of each other, and ideally, exhaustive. I believe there are five such elements and they have a handy acronym, PERMA, a shorthand abstraction for the enabling conditions of life: P Positive Emotion E Engagement R Positive Relationships M Meaning and Purpose A Accomplishment There has been forward movement in the measurement of these over the last decade. Taken together PERMA forms a more comprehensive index of well being than "life satisfaction" and it allows for the combining of objective and subjective indicators. PERMA can index the well being of individuals, of corporations, and of cities. The United Kingdom has now undertaken the measurement of well being for the nation and as one criterion -- in addition to Gross Domestic Product -- of the success of its public policy.

Steven Pinker - Positive-Sum Games ...when people become consciously aware of the game-theoretic structure of their interaction (that is, whether it is positive-, negative-, or zero-sum), they can make choices that bring them valuable outcomes -- like safety, harmony, and prosperity -- without their having to become more virtuous, noble, or pure...Some examples. Squabbling colleagues or relatives agree to swallow their pride, take their losses, or lump it to enjoy the resulting comity rather than absorbing the costs of continuous bickering in hopes of prevailing in a battle of wills. Two parties in a negotiation split the difference in their initial bargaining positions to "get to yes." Has an increasing awareness of the zero- or nonzero-sumness of interactions in the decades since 1950 (whether referred to in those terms or not) actually led to increased peace and prosperity in the world? It's not implausible. International trade and membership in international organizations has soared in the decades that game-theoretic thinking has infiltrated popular discourse. And perhaps not coincidentally, the developed world has seen both spectacular economic growth and a historically unprecedented decline in several forms of institutionalized violence, such as war between great powers, war between wealthy states, genocides, and deadly ethnic riots. Since the 1990s these gifts have started to accrue to the developing world as well, in part because they have switched their foundational ideologies from ones that glorify zero-sum class and national struggle to ones that glorify positive-sum market cooperation. (All these claims can be documented from the literature in international studies.) The enriching and pacifying effects of participation in positive-sum games long antedate the contemporary awareness of the concept. The biologists John Maynard Smith and Eörs Szathmáry have argued that an evolutionary dynamic which creates positive-sum games drove the major transitions in the history of life: the emergence of genes, chromosomes, bacteria, cells with nuclei, organisms, sexually reproducing organisms, and animal societies. In each transition, biological agents entered into larger wholes in which they specialized, exchanged benefits, and developed safeguards to prevent one from exploiting the rest to the detriment of the whole. The journalist Robert Wright sketched a similar arc in his book Nonzero and extended it to the deep history of human societies. An explicit recognition among literate people of the shorthand abstraction "positive-sum game" and its relatives may be extending a process in the world of human choices that has been operating in the natural world for billions of years.

Ludditicic justificatory reduxified - Wykup kll to kndl rdrs

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Better Learning Through Handwriting ScienceDaily (Jan. 24, 2011) -- Writing by hand strengthens the learning process. When typing on a keyboard, this process may be impaired.

Associate professor Anne Mangen at the University of Stavanger's Reading Centre asks if something is lost in switching from book to computer screen, and from pen to keyboard. The process of reading and writing involves a number of senses, she explains. When writing by hand, our brain receives feedback from our motor actions, together with the sensation of touching a pencil and paper. These kinds of feedback is significantly different from those we receive when touching and typing on a keyboard.

Together with neurophysiologist Jean-Luc Velay at the University of Marseille, Anne Mangen has written an article published in the Advances in Haptics periodical. They have examined research which goes a long way in confirming the significance of these differences. An experiment carried out by Velay's research team in Marseille establishes that different parts of the brain are activated when we read letters we have learned by handwriting, from those activated when we recognise letters we have learned through typing on a keyboard. When writing by hand, the movements involved leave a motor memory in the sensorimotor part of the brain, which helps us recognise letters. This implies a connection between reading and writing, and suggests that the sensorimotor system plays a role in the process of visual recognition during reading, Mangen explains.

 Mangen refers to an experiment involving two groups of adults, in which the participants were assigned the task of having to learn to write in an unknown alphabet, consisting of approximately twenty letters. One group was taught to write by hand, while the other was using a keyboard. Three and six weeks into the experiment, the participants' recollection of these letters, as well as their rapidity in distinguishing right and reversed letters, were tested. Those who had learned the letters by handwriting came out best in all tests. Furthermore, fMRI brain scans indicated an activation of the Broca's area within this group. Among those who had learned by typing on keyboards, there was little or no activation of this area.


According to Mangen, perception and sensorimotor now play a more prominent role. "Our bodies are designed to interact with the world which surrounds us. We are living creatures, geared toward using physical objects -- be it a book, a keyboard or a pen -- to perform certain tasks," she says.
Our friend Karen Winter-Nelson was in town, and we both had read the same report (we think) from Deric Bownds' MindBlog about the "sinister" bias in refereeing soccer games... But this entry today is more relevant to libraries (I think?):

An amazing article by Cao et al. brings home the intimate attachment between mental well-being and health - in mice (and by implication, for us too). An enriched environment promotes formation of a nerve growth factor which in turn inhibits tumor growth through a series of biochemical steps, shown in the summary graphic before the abstract. A commentary by Jonah Lehrer notes that we need "a new metaphor for the interactions of the brain and body. They aren't simply connected via some pipes and tubes. They are emulsified together, so hopelessly intertwined that everything that happens in one affects the other. Holism is the rule."
The full link is here.
From PLoS ONE:

Animals' attitudes to risk are profoundly influenced by metabolic state (hunger and baseline energy stores). Specifically, animals often express a preference for risky (more variable) food sources when below a metabolic reference point (hungry), and safe (less variable) food sources when sated. Circulating hormones report the status of energy reserves and acute nutrient intake to widespread targets in the central nervous system that regulate feeding behaviour, including brain regions strongly implicated in risk and reward based decision-making in humans. Despite this, physiological influences per se have not been considered previously to influence economic decisions in humans. We hypothesised that baseline metabolic reserves and alterations in metabolic state would systematically modulate decision-making and financial risk-taking in humans.
And does anyone disagree that kids read better and do better on tests when they aren't hungry.... does it need to be established through a randomized experiment... really? 

Why novelist Howard Engel couldn't read, but could write

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Excellent article on reading!  From Oliver Sacks in The New Yorker. 

ABSTRACT: A NEUROLOGIST'S NOTEBOOK about a man suffering from alexia, an inability to recognize written language. In January of 2002, Canadian novelist Howard Engel sent the writer a letter about his experience with alexia sine agraphia, a form of visual agnosia which results in an inability to recognize written language. On the morning of July 31, 2001, Engel awoke and discovered that he could not read the newspaper. His room looked normal, and he could still read his clock, but his books were all unintelligible, all full of the same "Oriental"-looking script. At the hospital, it was determined that he had had a stroke which had affected a limited area of the visual parts of the brain, on the left side. He spent the next week in the neurology ward at Toronto's Mount Sina Hospital. He also had difficulties recognizing colors, faces, and everyday objects, yet he was surprised to find that he could still write. Describes the medical history of alexia. Mentions French neurologist Joseph Jules Dejerine, Stanislas Dehaene, and Charles Scribner, Jr. Two months after his stroke, Engel had moved to a milder form of alexia. He would slowly and laboriously puzzle out words, letter by letter. Whatever language a person is reading, the same area of inferotemporal cortex, the visual word form area, is activated. Why should all human beings have this built-in facility for reading when writing is a relatively recent cultural invention? We might call this the Wallace problem, for Alfred Russel Wallace, who discovered natural selection independent of Charles Darwin. Mark Changizi and his colleagues at Caltech examined more than a hundred ancient and modern writing systems. They have shown that all of them, while geometrically very different, share certain basic topological similarities. Writing, a cultural tool, has evolved to make use of the inferotemporal neurons' preference for certain shapes. The origin of writing and reading cannot be understood as a direct evolutionary adaptation. It is dependent on the plasticity of the brain, and on the fact that experience is as powerful an agent of change as natural selection. We are literate not by virtue of a divine intervention but through a cultural invention and a cultural selection that make a creative new use of a preëxisting neural proclivity. While Howard was still in the rehab hospital, he began keeping a "memory book," to record his thoughts. More than three months after his stroke, he returned home and decided to write a new novel, "Memory Book," which was published in 2005. It was followed by a memoir, "The Man Who Forgot How to Read," which came out in 2007.

We may as well just open oxytocin bars instead of libraries...

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So it is quite common that people asking me about "Why libraries?" are really asking me to tell them a story about how someone read a book and it made them a better person.  Of course, they are happy with an anecdote, but the social scientist in me hesitates to generalize from anecdotes, and I know that many many kids do not become better persons no matter how many Narnia books they read (or the non-existent as far as I know African equivalent, but I am waiting for Akpan to get some hope and have some fun and write a fantasy novel for kids and grownups set in Africa... The Famished Road, you suggest... are you kidding?).  Anyway, the social scientist in me hesitates to ascribe much definitive good to book reading, and now I hesitate even more, because much recent science is saying we may as well just open oxytocin bars instead of libraries... Of course, continuing my thought, what if they took the oxytocin double-shot and then read a really bad book? 

 Deric Bownds' MindBlog reproduces an abstract from  from Hurlemann et al.:

Oxytocin (OT) is becoming increasingly established as a prosocial neuropeptide in humans with therapeutic potential in treatment of social, cognitive, and mood disorders. However, the potential of OT as a general facilitator of human learning and empathy is unclear. The current double-blind experiments on healthy adult male volunteers investigated first whether treatment with intranasal OT enhanced learning performance on a feedback-guided item-category association task where either social (smiling and angry faces) or nonsocial (green and red lights) reinforcers were used, and second whether it increased either cognitive or emotional empathy measured by the Multifaceted Empathy Test. Further experiments investigated whether OT-sensitive behavioral components required a normal functional amygdala. Results in control groups showed that learning performance was improved when social rather than nonsocial reinforcement was used. Intranasal OT potentiated this social reinforcement advantage and greatly increased emotional, but not cognitive, empathy in response to both positive and negative valence stimuli. Interestingly, after OT treatment, emotional empathy responses in men were raised to levels similar to those found in untreated women. Two patients with selective bilateral damage to the amygdala (monozygotic twins with congenital Urbach-Wiethe disease) were impaired on both OT-sensitive aspects of these learning and empathy tasks, but performed normally on nonsocially reinforced learning and cognitive empathy. Overall these findings provide the first demonstration that OT can facilitate amygdala-dependent, socially reinforced learning and emotional empathy in men.
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Books, reading, and libraries relevant to Africa by Michael Kevane, co-Director of FAVL and economist at Santa Clara University.

Other contributors include Kate Parry, FAVL-East Africa director, Peace Corps volunteer Emilie Crofton, Krystle Austin, Elisee Sare, and Monique Nadembega.

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