Stanislas Dehaene

Reading and the Brain Publication date : August 30, 2007

Reading implies the existence of an amazingly precise and efficient neuronal mechanism, whose complex organisation we are now beginning to elucidate. Progress in the neurosciences and in cognitive psychology has enabled scientists to decode what happens on the neuronal level when we read.

Based on these empirical findings, a theory of reading is being developed. This theory describes how our cortical circuits, the legacy of our evolutionary past, managed to adapt to the activity of reading. It also shows how neuronal networks learn to read; it describes the mechanisms that enable adults to read quickly and efficiently; it explains why some children suffer from dyslexia and what can be done to help them.

Using straightforward language, this book aims to give the reader access to recent findings in the science of reading and to the experimental research that underpins it. Its ambition is to provide information about this recent science and to dispel our ignorance about the complex operations the brain sets in motion when we read.

How can reading difficulties be explained? What sort of profound changes are imposed on the brain when we learn to read? Can it be demonstrated that some methods of reading acquisition are better adapted than others to the way children's brains are organised? Which arguments explain why the holistic reading method is not the most efficient?

Even if much still remains to be discovered, the new science of reading is beginning to provide precise answers to all of the above questions.

As a result, it is hoped that a true science of education will emerge at the crossroads of psychology and medicine and that it will succeed in using brain imagery to optimise teaching methods, so as to adapt them to the brain of each child and adult.

Stanislas Dehaene is a professor at the Collège de France and the author of La Bosse des maths (Editions Odile Jacob, 1997; paperback 2006), which was awarded the Prix Jean-Rostand.