The portion of the brain responsible for visual reading lights up - whether it's a person with sight who is reading, or a blind person who reads Braille, says a new study.
"The brain is not a sensory machine, although it often looks like one; it is a task machine," said Amir Amedi of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
"A brain area can fulfill a unique function, in this case reading, regardless of what form the sensory input takes."
Amedi's team used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure neural activity in eight people who had been blind since birth while they read Braille.
If the brain were organized around processing sensory information, Braille reading would require regions dedicated to processing tactile information but if the brain is task oriented, you'd expect to find the peak of activity across the entire brain in the VWFA, right where it occurs in sighted readers, and that is exactly what the researchers found.
"The main functional properties of the VWFA as identified in the sighted are present as well in the blind, are thus independent of the sensory modality of reading, and even more surprisingly do not require any visual experience," the researchers wrote.
"Hence, the VWFA should also be referred to as the tactile word form area, or more generally as the (metamodal) word form area."
"Its specific anatomical location and its strong connectivity to language areas enable it to bridge high-level perceptual word representation and language-related components of reading," they wrote.
"It is therefore the most suitable region to be taken over during reading acquisition, even when reading is acquired via touch without prior visual experience."
The study is published online on February 17 in Current Biology.