“Brain Is Not Designed to Read”

Speaking at the seminar organized by Department of Psychology of Ibn Haldun University “IHU” Prof. Timothy Jordan from National Health Service in UK said, “our brains are not designed to read, and the reading is something we force our brains to do”. Prof. Jordan stressed out that written words are just meaningless visual patterns until our brains process these patterns and we make sense of what we are seeing. He added, “In fact, most theories of how humans read rely on ‘input’ stage of just individual letter identities from 1981 till 2011” Prof. Jordan pointed out.

The Psychology Department organized the seminar at Mesnevi Hall of our Başakşehir Campus on August 21, 2019 between 11:00-13:00. At the seminar, Prof. Tim Jordan delivered his speech on “A Quick Look at the Hidden Processes Used for Reading”. With participation of students and faculty members from our university Prof. Jordan discussed the question “What do we see in a written word that allows us to read?”

“Spatial frequency plays a vital role in visual recognition”

Prof. Jordan stated that our brain is designed to recognize everyday objects “not to read” and research has shown that when recognizing everyday objects our brain uses different “Spatial Frequencies” in everyday life, according to Jordan. “Spatial Frequencies are the number of light-dark cycles in an object per unit of space. Neurons in primary visual cortex are turned to specific spatial frequencies” clarified Prof. Jordan.

He added that ‘low’ spatial frequency neurons code coarse luminance variations in the world such as large objects and the overall shape. On the other hand, ‘high’ spatial frequency neurons respond to the fine spatial structure of the world, such as small objects and details, according to Jordan. “Low spatial frequencies are processed faster than higher spatial frequencies” stated Prof. Jordan.

“Cue and target experiment”

“In an experiment we used ‘Visual Priming’ which is presenting the ‘low’ spatial frequency briefly, for just 30 milliseconds, before a normal word, appears for 30 milliseconds , the result was that the ‘low’ frequency information ‘cue’ produced substantial lexical activation for the ‘target’ word”

“When we fixate a word in text we bring the word into high-quality foveal vision”

“Although we might feel that our eyes move smoothly along a line of text when we read, by using eye-trackers, we know that our eyes actually travel along each line of text by making jerky movements which lasts for 20-40 milliseconds and called ‘saccades’ and frequently pause to make fixations. In addition, humans are essentially ‘blind’ between fixations, so we actually get all we need to read during each brief fixation pause. When we fixate a word in text we bring the word into high-quality foveal vision,” Prof. Jordan continued.

“Good readers make more effective use of all spatial frequencies”

Using eyes tracking device, Prof. Jordan and his colleagues concluded that good and poor readers each use a range of different spatial frequencies, “By tracking the eyes, we developed a moving filter technique to present sentences containing only coarse, medium or fine spatial frequencies at each fixation location” said prof. Jordan who continued, “We came to findings suggest that good and poor readers each use a range of different spatial frequencies for reading but good readers make more effective use of all spatial frequencies and especially those that are lower.”

At the end of the event, Head of Psychology Department, Prof. Medaim Yanık handed out a present and a certificate of appreciation to our guest.

Who is Prof. Timothy Jordan

Prof. Jordan has his bachelor degree in Psychology from the University of Reading, UK. he received PhD in Cognitive Psychology from University of Reading, UK. Previously, he served as a Lecturer in Cognition and Perception at the University of St Andrews in the UK. He also served as a Professor of Experimental Cognitive Psychology at the University of Nottingham in the UK. Prof. Jordan was a Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Leicester. His Interests are broadly, cognition, cognitive neuroscience, and perception across the lifespan, with a special focus on written and spoken language, facial communication, and the enhancement of linguistic abilities through technology.


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