Little Albert, lost and found

One of the most famous and most mythologised studies in psychology concerns John Watson’s experiment to condition ‘Little Albert’ to be afraid of a white rat. ‘Little Albert’ and his mother moved away afterwards and no-one knew what happened to him, leading to one of the most enduring mysteries in psychology. Finally, it seems, his identity has been discovered.

An article in the latest edition of American Psychologist recounts a detective story, led by psychologist Hall Beck, to try and solve the question of what happened to ‘Little Albert’ after his participation in the famous study.

The experiment itself consisted of showing the infant some live animals, most notably a white rat, and some other assorted objects, to demonstrate he had no pre-existing fear of them.

On several later occasions, when playing happily with the white rat, Watson and his colleague Rosalie Rayner struck a metal bar to frighten the young child. Subsequently, simply seeing the rat was enough to cause Albert to cry and show visible distress – demonstrating the phenomenon of classical conditioning, where something previously neutral can be associated with the responses triggered by something else.

Although accounts vary, Albert may have shown generalisation of his learnt response, so he became distressed at things like rabbits, dogs and furry coats, despite the fact that experimenters never presented these with a frightening noise.

‘Little Albert’ and his mother moved away from the university, his identity was lost and for years psychologists and historians have wondered what happened to the unwilling star in one of the landmark studies of the 20th century.

The first step was to find out exactly when the experiments took place and then to try and identify Albert’s mother from the information given in Watson’s original studies.

Careful sifting of financial and residency records put the researchers onto a campus wet nurse called Arvilla Merritte, but there the trail went cold.

There were no others traces of Arvilla Merritte but a search for her maiden name, Arvilla Irons, revealed that her married name was likely fictitious to hide the fact that her baby was illegitimate.

However, Irons’ baby was not called Albert, but Douglas, and it wasn’t until the Irons family got in touch to send a photo of the baby that the researchers could try and make a physical comparison.

The photos were blurry and they recruited the help of an FBI forensics expert to compare the images. The comparison suggested that the photos were likely of the same person and with the other matching biographical details it seems very likely that Douglas Merritte was indeed ‘Little Albert’.

The story has a tragic ending, however, as Douglas Merritte died when only six years old after developing hydrocephalus, a build up of fluid in the brain, possibly due to a meningitis infection.

Beck finishes the article on a melancholy note, reflecting on his own part in the story, Little Albert’s short life and his visit to his grave:

As I watched Gary and Helen put flowers on the grave, I recalled a daydream in which I had envisioned showing a puzzled old man Watson’s film of him as a baby. My small fantasy was among the dozens of misconceptions and myths inspired by Douglas.

“The sunbeam‚Äôs smile, the zephyr‚Äôs breath,
All that it knew from birth to death.”

None of the folktales we encountered during our inquiry had a factual basis. There is no evidence that the baby’s mother was “outraged” at her son’s treatment or that Douglas’s phobia proved resistant to extinction. Douglas was never deconditioned, and he was not adopted by a family north of Baltimore.

Nor was he ever an old man. Our search of seven years was longer than the little boy’s life. I laid flowers on the grave of my longtime “companion,” turned, and simultaneously felt a great peace and profound loneliness.

Link to summary of article in American Psychologist.

Disembodied voices of joy, silence and rage

ABC Radio National’s All in the Mind has a powerful and moving programme on the experience of ‘hearing voices’ that meets with two young women with quite different experiences of auditory hallucinations.

One of the young women, Kat, has largely positive voices and has come to understand and work with them, while another, Mel, has an abusive and taunting voice that has clearly caused a huge amount of distress and impairment.

Mel’s story is difficult to hear in parts and the programme starkly illustrates the range of experiences that accompany auditory hallucinations.

The piece also tackles current ideas and approaches to ‘hearing voices’, from the medical and scientific to the grassroots and social approach of the Hearing Voices Network.

There’s also an equally powerful video interview on the AITM site at the link below.

Link to AITM on ‘Hearing Voices: stories from the coalface’.

Beautiful from the inside out

Technology Review has a fantastic photo essay that tracks how we’ve visualised the brain from times past and includes some of the most stunning images from the last century of neuroscience.

It’s been put together by Mo Costandi, the writer you may know from the Neurophilosophy blog, with each image concisely described so you can get an insight into exactly what you’re seeing.

Link to ‘Time Travel Through the Brain’ photo essay.

The birth of the ‘psychic energizer’

With uncanny echoes of the modern interest in ‘cognitive enhancers’, a 1958 edition of Popular Science hails a new drug that “tunes up the brain” allowing us “to perform at peak efficiency all the time”.

The drug is iproniazid, marketed then as Marsilid. It was the first ever antidepressant, but the concept of an ‘antidepressant’ had yet to be created by the pharmaceutical companies and instead it is described as ‘psychic energizer’.

It was originally used a treatment for tuberculosis, as it stops the bacterial infection, but it was noticed that patients treated with iproniazid seemed to have a lift in mood at low doses and risked becoming confused and psychotic at higher doses.

At the time, the only widely used psychiatric drugs were tranquilisers, and the idea that a drug might be an ‘anti-tranquiliser’ was quite puzzling. It was trialled on some patients with diagnoses of mental illness patients and then marketed as a ‘psychic energizer’.

According to David Healy’s book (p66) on the history of drug treatments for depression, The Antidepressant Era, this label came from the discoverers trying to interpret its effects in Freudian terms – in which ‘psychic’ is used broadly to mean ‘psychological’:

Kline and Ostow speculated that as psychic conflicts all involved the binding of psychic energy in various different ways and as a great deal of ego energy went into binding instinctual (or id) energy down to produce a range of inhibited states, it was conceivable that a drug that took energy away from the ego might lead to liberation of instinctual energy – it might be a psychic energizer.

However, the drug was rapidly taken off the market as it was found to damage the liver to the point where a number of patients died of hepatitis.

The Popular Science article is interesting because it is remarkably similar to modern day articles on cognitive enhancers – relating it’s effects to improving performance rather than treating an illness and musing over whether healthy people should take drugs to make them ‘better than well’.

Therefore, let’s imagine that a few years from now there is a psychic energizer known to be completely harmless. And suppose its effect on body chemistry is perfectly normal and natural. In that case, what about the healthy person who just want more vim and vigor to go dancing?

“Well”, Dr Kline answers, “why not?” After all, nobody sees anything wrong about a dentist working to give perfect teeth. Why shouldn’t a doctor try to give perfect metabolism?

Or perfect tits, as the comparison more commonly goes in the 21st century.

It’s an interesting insight into how the drug companies were trying to find a place in the market for their puzzling new compounds in the 1950s and another demonstration of how concerns about ‘cognitive enhancers’ are as old as drugs themselves.

Link to Popular Science article ‘New Drugs to Tune Up Our Brains’.

Encephalon 77 teams up

The 77th edition of the Encephalon psychology and neuroscience writing carnival has just appeared online, this time ably hosted by Sharp Brains.

This edition is rather special as it’s a crossing of the streams with the medical carnival Grand Rounds.

A couple of my favourites include Brain Blogger on whether religion can be understood as a natural phenomenon and Advances in the History of Psychology on some of the early experimental work on emotion.

There’s many more links to great writing in the blogosphere so do head over and have a look.

Link to Encephalon 77.

Cheese, dreams and drugs

A common belief says that eating cheese causes vivid dreams or nightmares. However, I couldn’t find any support for the idea in the scientific literature except for one bizarre case study.

Although the case report really tells us nothing about the link between cheese and dreaming, it’s lovely to read because it’s from a bygone day where doctors could write into medical journals with their strange and idiosyncratic observations.

From a 1964 edition of the British Medical Journal:

I have lately seen a patient with moderate essential hypertension who because of various side-effects with other drugs was changed to pargyline, 25 mg every morning; this gave satisfactory control and within a fortnight the patient volunteered that he felt much less depressed, but was having nightmares.

Inquiry produced the fact that he habitually ate one or two ounces (30-60 g) of Cheddar cheese with his supper every evening. The nightmares were of a horrifying nature, and curiously they were concerned not with his immediate family or friends but with people such as his workmates, with whom he was not in any particular emotional relationship. He dreamt of one, terribly mutilated, hanging from a meat-hook. Another he dreamt of falling into a bottomless abyss. When cheese was withdrawn from his diet the nightmares ceased.

I am, etc. J. CHARLES SHEE, Bulawayo, S. Rhodesia.

The mentioned drug, pargyline, as well as being used for hypertension is in the same class of drugs more commonly used as antidepressants.

These are monoamine oxidase B inhibitors (MAOIs) which prevent the breakdown of the monoamine neurotransmitters serotonin, epinephrine and norepinephrine. However, they also prevent the breakdown of the chemical tyramine which occurs naturally in some foods, such as cheese, some soy bean products, processed meats and some fruit and nuts.

A build up of tyramine can cause an increase in blood pressure which can cause headaches, heart problems and increases the chance of stroke (blood vessel blockage or bleeds in the brain). Hence, people taking MAOI antidepressants have to avoid foods high in tyramine to prevent these potentially lethal side-effects.

Interestingly, the fact that the UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was apparently avoiding similar foods led to internet rumours that he was on these antidepressants, which caused a media flap when the BBC questioned him about his mental health and use of “pills” to “get through”.

Link to PubMed entry for case study with full text option.

Inhabiting a robot hand

BBC News has a fascinating short video report of a robotic hand that is connected to the nerve fibres of an amputated arm and which allows the patient to actually feel touches with the robot fingers.

Although it doesn’t mention it in the report, the technology is from the SmartHand research group who are attempting to use knowledge about the cognitive neuroscience of action and body sensation to make fully integrated naturally controlled prosthetics.

There’s an interesting part of the video where the patient says “When I grab something tightly I can feel it in the finger tips, which is strange because I don’t have them anymore”.

In other words, despite the fact that the robot hand feeds touch information into the nerve fibres into the arm stump, the patient feels the sensations ‘in’ the robot fingers.

This is essentially the ‘rubber hand illusion‘ and the same research group demonstrated exactly this in a recent experiment where they induced touch sensations in a robot hand by stroking it and the stump simultaneously.

This is interesting because a recent study found that sensations in people with intact arms only transferred to a realistic looking rubber hand and not a wooden one, whereas this research team uses a obviously false robot limb.

The fact that touches transfer to an obviously false hand for someone with an amputation but not for people with intact limbs is interesting, because it suggests that brain’s remaining body-image ‘maps’ for the amputated hand may be being recruited to enhance the illusion.

Link to BBC News video report “New robotic hand ‘can feel'”.
Link to SmartHand project.

Hallucinations in sensory deprivation after 15 minutes

Photo by Flickr user Matthew McVickarSensory deprivation lasting only 15 minutes is enough to trigger hallucinations in healthy members of the public, according to a new study published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease.

The researchers were interested in resurrecting the somewhat uncontrolled research done in the 50s and 60s where participants were dunked into dark, silent, body temperature float tanks where they subsequently reported various unusual perceptions.

In this study the researchers screening a large number of healthy participants using a questionnaire that asks about hallucinatory experiences in everyday life. On the basis of this, they recruited two groups: one of ‘high’ hallucinators and another of ‘low’ hallucinators.

They then put the participants, one by one, in a dark anechoic chamber which shields all incoming sounds and deadens any noise made by the participant. The room had a ‘panic button’ to stop the experiment but apparently no-one needed to use it.

They asked participants to sit in the chamber for 15 minutes and then, immediately after, used a standard assessment to see whether they’d had an unusual experiences.

After a twenty minute break, they were asked again about perceptual distortions to see if there were any difference when normal sensation was restored.

Hallucinations, paranoid thoughts and low mood were reported more often after sensory deprivation for both groups but, interestingly, people already who had a tendency to have hallucinations in everyday life had a much greater level of perceptual distortion after leaving the chamber than the others.

This study complements research published in 2004 that found that visual hallucinations could be induced in healthy participants just by getting them to wear a blindfold for 96 hours.

However, my attention was grabbed by the researchers use of a ‘panic button’. The effect of having a panic button in sensory deprivation experiments was specifically studied in 1964 by psychologists Martin Orne and Karl Scheibe. They also asked about hallucinations and compared two groups of people.

One group was met by researchers in white coats, given a medical examination and told to press a ‘panic button’ if they wanted out. The other was met by researchers in causal clothes, weren’t given medical checks, and told to knock on the window if they wanted the experiment to stop.

The actual sensory deprivation part was the same, but the group with the panic button reported many more hallucinations, likely owing to ‘demand characteristics’, or, in other words, their expectations of what might happen.

We also know that an increase in anxiety also increases the likelihood of hallucinations, and having a ‘panic button’ during an experiment, I suspect, is likely put most people a little more on edge.

So we can’t be sure that the effect was purely due to sensory deprivation, but it does chime with various other studies showing that when we reduce our normal sensations, the brain has a tendency to ‘fill in’ with hallucinations.

Link to PubMed entry for sensory deprivation study.

How many shrinks does it take to change a diagnosis?

With debates still raging over the new version of the psychiatrists’ diagnostic manual, the DSM-V, a selection of radical new diagnoses have been submitted which may give the committee pause for thought.

They have been carefully reviewed by Matthew Hutson over at Psychology Today and we include a couple so you can see how this paradigm shift in medical thinking may affect future practice:

Napoleon Complex

Antecedents: Being short, male; having a French accent.

Symptoms: Power-seeking. Attempting to compensate for small stature through aggression, tall hats.

Notes: Despite widespread misconception, Napoleon Bonaparte of France was of average height for his time. He was actually compensating for almost imperceivably asymmetrical nostrils.

Neapolitan Complex (also known as Tripolar Disorder)

Antecedents: Being Italian; nearly drowning in a vat of frozen dairy dessert.

Symptoms: Having a light side, a dark side, and a sickeningly rosy side. Wanting to be everything to everyone. Chronic brain freeze.

There’s plenty more in the full piece but on a more serious note, a short article in Psychiatric News reflects on one psychiatrist’s attempt to communicate with the DSM-V committee while finding that actually, much of it has already been decided.

Link to humorous diagnostic suggestions at Psychology Today.
Link to Psychiatric Times piece on ‘the DSM process’.

Around the brain in forty years

The latest edition of the Journal of Neuroscience has a fantastic collection of articles by leading neuroscientists who look back on the last 40 years of discoveries in brain research.

The collection is to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Society for Neuroscience. As the articles make clear, the last four decades have seen a huge expansion in our knowledge of how the brain works and the Society asked leading lights in the field to reflect on this scientific revolution.

Memory and Brain Systems: 1969–2009 by Larry R. Squire [link]

Neurotransmitters, Receptors, and Second Messengers Galore in 40 Years by Solomon H. Snyder [link]

Four Decades of Neurodegenerative Disease Research: How Far We Have Come! by Anne B. Young [link]

A Paradigm Shift in Functional Brain Imaging by Marcus E. Raichle [link]

The Development of Developmental Neuroscience by Carol Mason [link]

The Biology of Memory: A Forty-Year Perspective by Eric R. Kandel [link]

Strictly speaking, they’re not all retrospectives. For example, while Larry Squire gives a whistle-stop tour through the last 40 years of the cognitive neuroscience of memory (and you’ll probably not read a better brief article in this area), Marcus Raichle takes the opportunity to look forward and is clearly enthusiastic about the ‘default network‘ which he is co-credited with discovering.

They’re all academic articles, so are not the most accessible if you’re not familiar with the scientific literature, but as brief guides to some of the major areas of neuroscience they’re fantastic and freely available online.

Science of slumber

Science News has a brilliant special issue on the ‘science of slumber’ that tackles sleep disorders, the mental impact of sleep deprivation, how sleep differs across species and the still mysterious question of why we need to sleep.

I found the article on two seemingly straightforward sleep disorders, insomnia and narcolepsy, the most interesting. They seem straightforward because they appear as a lack and an excess of sleep, but as the piece makes clear, they are still quite mysterious.

Insomnia is particularly interesting because having trouble sleeping happens to everyone at some point, so in itself, it’s not abnormal – meaning that research into what triggers it is unlikely to find anything striking.

Instead research has shifted to try and understand what prevents insomnia from resolving naturally so it becomes a chronic condition:

Sleeplessness may be brought on by traumatic events such as a death in the family, an illness such as cancer or anything else distressing, causing a person to lie awake at night with a racing mind. For a subset of people, though, insomnia has no prompting signal — a condition called primary insomnia.

Regardless of the trigger (or lack thereof), temporary insomnia has a nasty way of becoming a habit. Poor sleep habits can become ingrained. When trouble sleeping persists for three or four nights a week over several months, insomnia is considered chronic.

It may turn out that untangling the prompting signals of insomnia, as many sleep researchers attempt, is a fool’s errand, says Michael Perlis, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program in Philadelphia. “The whole zeitgeist has changed,” he says. Most sleep researchers now agree that “once insomnia goes chronic, it stays that way,” regardless of the prompting signal, Perlis says. So rather than focusing on the immediate trigger for insomnia, many scientists are trying to figure out why it becomes chronic and how to prevent that from happening.

I also liked the short piece that briefly compares the amount of type of sleep between lots of different animals. It seems dolphins don’t have REM sleep. I wonder if that means that they lack or have very limited dreams?

Anyway, a great collection of articles and all freely available online.

Link to SciNews ‘Science of Slumber’ collection.

Neuroanthropology, a rough guide

There’s a comprehensive and compelling introduction to neuroanthropology over at the blog of the same name that outlines why we can’t fully understand the brain or culture while thinking of them as separate entities.

The Neuroanthropology blog is run by two of the main researchers in the field and this recent article was written to launch their recent conference ‘The Encultured Brain’.

The article is in-depth but accessible and clearly lays out the main ideas in the field, looking at the benefits to both brain science and cultural studies in a combined approach and noting where narrow thinking has dimmed our view of human nature.

The potential gains are enormous: a robust account of brains in the wild, an understanding of how we come to possess our distinctive capacities and the degree to which these might be malleable across our entire species. The applications of this sort of research are myriad in diverse areas such as education, cross-cultural communication, developmental psychology, design, therapy, and information technology, to name just a few. But the first step is the one taken here – by coming together, we can achieve significant advances in understanding how our very humanity relies on the intricate interplay of brain and culture.

Link to ‘Why Neuroanthropology? Why Now?’

2009-10-16 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:

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Slate has a brilliant article on the links between face structure and aggression and whether we can see criminality in the face. Contains the wonderful euphemism ‘muscular unreasonableness’.

Video games are good for the brain, according to an article from The Boston Globe that reviews evidence for the cognitive benefits of computer games.

The BPS Research Digest has an awesome review of the state of brain scan ‘lie detection‘ research. Punchline: scientifically interesting, practically useless still.

There’s a brilliant article on doing cognitive neuroscience experiments with patients during neurosurgery in this week’s Nature. Stupidly locked behind a paywall but has been touched by the irony fairy and given the rubbing-salt-in-the-wounds title ‘Opening up brain surgery’.

PsyBlog has as excellent piece on ‘how rewards can backfire and reduce motivation’.

The tragedy of the commons is really a farce, according to an excellent piece from The New York Times TiernyLab blog that tackles the myth behind the phrase and the latest economics nobel.

Not Exactly Rocket Science covers new research on how the placebo effect affects pain signalling in the spine.

The sound of something getting closer increases the sensitivity of the visual cortex ‚Äì before you’re even conscious of hearing it, according to new research covered by New Scientist.

Neurotopia is live blogging the annual Society of Neuroscience gathering of the tribes and has a list of other bloggers covering the proceedings.

An experiment on the neurobiology of fizz, is covered by a carbonated Science News.

Time magazine has a piece on the debates over whether dementia should be considered a terminal illness and new evidence that challenges the traditional view that the brain decline itself isn’t fatal.

There’s an great piece on placebo side-effects on the increasingly excellent Neuroskeptic.

The New York Times travels into the science of the ear and hearing.

Is Alzheimer’s like a strange form of brain cancer? asks Disover Magazine.

APS Observer has an interesting piece on an antique piece on psychology equipment called the ‘memory drum‘.

New research on Galileo’s work in the science of perception is covered by the wonderful Advances in the History of Psychology.

The Times has a breathless piece on the dawn of ‘brain to brain communication’ which includes “sending messages formed by one person‚Äôs brain signals though an internet connection to another person‚Äôs brain many miles away”. RFC1149 is that you?

Neuroethics at SfN 2009

The world’s largest scientific conference, the Society for Neuroscience meeting, starts tomorrow in Chicago. Tens of thousands of researchers from all areas of neuroscience will meet to discuss all aspects of the brain. The conference always has a full programme of social events, as well as the usual scientific programme (I am still filled with regret about missing the ‘Hippocampus Poetry Slam’ the last time I went). If you are in Chigaco this year, one particular event you might want to check out is the Neuroethics Social, hosted by Martha Farah from the University of Pennslyvania

Neuroethics Social
Time & Date: Tuesday Oct 20, 6:30-8:00
Location: Room N139, convention center
Guests: J.T. Cacioppo J.D. Haynes J. Illes S. Laureys H.S. Mayberg E.A. Phelps R.A. Poldrack B.J. Sahakian
“Interested in the ethical, legal or policy implications of neuroscience? Come to the neuroethics social hour and meet others with the same interests. And don’t miss the short but spirited debate, between two leading neuroimaging researchers, on the proposition that “brain imaging is already capable of (something worthy of the term) ‘mind reading’.”

Martha is the academic director of the Center for Neuroscience & Society at U. of Pennsylvania and for the last few years has been running a ‘Neuroscience Bootcamp’ for professionals and graduate students in fields such as law, ethics and education who feel they need a crash course in modern neuroscience.

Tea intoxication

An interesting case study from a 2002 edition of The Lancet of a man who suffered paralysis from drinking too much Earl Grey tea owing to the toxic effects of huge doses of bergamot oil – taken from orange rind and used as flavour:

A 44-year-old man presented in May, 2001, with muscle cramps. He had no medical history of note, but volunteered the fact that he had been drinking up to 4 L of black tea per day over the past 25 years. His preferred brand was GoldTeefix (Tekanne, Salzburg, Austria). Since this type of tea had given him occasional gastric pain, he changed to Earl Grey (Twinings & Company, London, UK), which he thought would be less harmful to his stomach. 1 week after the change, he noticed repeated muscle cramps for some seconds in his right foot. The longer he drank Earl Grey tea, the more intense the muscle cramps became. After 3 weeks, they also occurred in the left foot…

Earl Grey tea is composed of black tea and the essence of bergamot oil, an extract from the rind of bergamot orange (Citrus aurantium ssp bergamia), which has a pleasant, refreshing scent. Bergamot oil contains bergapten (5-methoxypsoralen), bergamottin (5-geranyloxypsoralen), and citropten (5,7-dimethoxycoumarin), which can be found in grapefruit juice, celery, parsnips, and Seville orange juice. Bergamot oil is a well-known UVA-induced photosensitiser with a strong phototoxic effect, and is used therapeutically in psoriasis, vitiligo, mycosis fungoides, and cutaneous lymphoma. Because of this side-effect, bergamot oil has been widely banned as an ingredient in cosmetics and tanning products. Bergamot oil also has a hepatotoxic effect and may cause contact-allergy. The adverse effects of bergamot oil in this patient are explained by the effect of bergapten as a largely selective axolemmal potassium channel blocker, reducing potassium permeability at the nodes of Ranvier in a time-dependent manner. This may lead to hyperexcitability of the axonal membrane and phasic alterations of potassium currents, causing fasciculations and muscle cramps.

In other words, it disrupts the way chemical flow through the membrane of the nerve fibre, causing the neurons that connect to the muscles to malfunction.

Link to DOI entry for the case study.

A brain signature for literacy

Not Exactly Rocket Science covers a fantastic study on how the structure of the brain changes as illiterate adults learn to read and write. The research was conducted on rather a novel group of participants. Most were ex-members of guerilla forces in Colombia that had recently put down their weapons to re-integrate in society.

Colombia has a sizeable program to rehabilitate ex-paramilitary ‘reinsertados’ that includes social support and education, as many have never attended school. As the researchers note, this sets up an interesting natural experiment:

After decades spent fighting, members of the guerrilla forces have begun re-integrating into mainstream Colombian society, introducing a sizeable population of illiterate adults who have no formal education. Upon putting down their weapons and returning to society, some had the opportunity to learn to read for the first time in their early twenties, providing the perfect natural situation for experiments investigating structural brain differences associated with the acquisition of literacy in the absence of other types of schooling or maturational development.

The researchers, led by neuroscientist Manuel Carreiras, recruited a group of ex-paramilitaries who could read less than five simple words on a Spanish reading and writing test, and compared them to a similar group who learnt to read and write from an early age.

The research team use MRI scans to compare differences in brain structure between the two groups to allow an insight into how brain anatomy changes to accommodate reading and writing.

While it is possible to do this with children, it is almost impossible to separate out which are the brain changes due specifically to acquiring literacy and which are just part of the massive changes that constantly take place as children develop.

The images above show the areas of the brain (in orange) where the structure was significantly different between literate and illiterate adults.

Rather neatly, these are also areas that have been identified in brain activation studies of reading and writing, and are known to be associated with visual perception, processing word sounds and dealing with the meaning of words.

Subsequent analyses showed that pathways the angular gyrus, a key language area, across each hemisphere were less developed in illiterate adults and were less active when the participants were asked to name objects.

A brilliantly innovative study, a good write-up from Not Exactly Rocket Science and perfectly timed for my arrival in Colombia.

Link to NERS on guerilla reading.
Link to summary of scientific paper.