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Yet some people have more of this trait than others, which can have profound effects on their learning abilities. By using MRI scans to observe the brains of people with and without dyslexia as they completed learning tasks, the researchers have pinpointed how the rigidity of dyslexic brains may be behind the reading difficulties that are often caused by the disorder.
Though the disorder can take many forms, dyslexic people generally struggle with reading comprehension and other tasks related to processing language, such as memorization or learning a foreign language. But after a century of probing the world's most common learning disability—which affects at least one in 10 people worldwide —researchers are still mostly in the dark about the mechanisms behind it. To shed light on how the dyslexic brain learns, a team of researchers led by MIT neuroscientist John Gabrieli decided to look beyond language processing.
In all of the tests, researchers could see the brains of the children and adults without dyslexia adapting readily to the repeated stimuli.
Their brains showed much less activity after they saw or heard a word or object or face that they'd been exposed to multiple times, suggesting that they had adapted already to process this information more efficiently, says Gabrieli. But the brains of the participants with dyslexia displayed much less of this adaptation. It appeared as if the dyslexic brain had to fully reprocess the stimuli each time they were exposed to it, without the benefit of neural shortcuts that would make things more efficient, Gabrieli says. Outside of the lab, it's known that people with dyslexia don't struggle as much to recognize faces or objects or spoken language as they do to read.
Gabrieli suspects that their lack of neural plasticity may manifest most when it comes to reading because of the amount of thinking and learning it requires.
Because reading difficulties are one of the main symptoms of dyslexia, researchers have long focused on studying and treating this phenomenon as a language processing disorder. That has meant focusing on the language processing part of the brain, rather than overall neural flexibility. The new study gives a new perspective:
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