Do you have bad memory for faces? Well, your superior reading skills may be to blame, according to a new brain-scan study.
Previously, Stanislas Dehaene at the INSERM-CEA Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit in Saclay, France, proposed a "neuronal recycling" theory, which suggests that new skills are handled by existing brain-cell circuits with older but related functions.
To test the hypothesis, Dehaene and colleagues carried out functional MRI brain scans on 10 people who could not read, 22 who learned to read as adults and 31 who did so as children, while they were shown text and images, reports New Scientist.
The scans firstly confirmed which regions of the brain are associated with reading: as expected, the visual word form area, which is known to enable people to link sounds with written symbols, became active during reading, demonstrating that it plays an important role.
Unsurprisingly, those who were better readers had more activation in this area when they were reading compared with the others. And when volunteers listened to spoken sentences, all their brains showed similar responses in the visual word form area.
But when the researchers showed participants pictures of faces, the visual word form area of those who could read was much less active than that of participants who could not read.
So, the researchers speculate, learning to read competes with face recognition ability - in this part of the brain at least.
"The intriguing possibility that our face-perception abilities suffer in proportion to our reading skills will be explored in future research," they say.
The study appears in the Journal Science.