Selective Inhibition of Mirror Invariance for Letters Doubles Reading Fluency

Ana Raquel Torres, Natália B. Mota, Nery Adamy, Janaina Weissheimer, Angela Naschold, Mauro Copelli, Felipe Pegado and Sidarta G. Ribeiro

Mirror invariance, a visual mechanism that emerges early in human development, enables a prompt recognition of mirror images. This visual capacity, useful to recognize objects, faces, and places from both left and right perspectives is also present in primates, pigeons, and cephalopods. Notwithstanding, the same visual mechanism is suspected to be the source of a specific difficulty for a relatively recent human invention-reading-by creating confusion between mirror-letters (eg, bd in the Latin alphabet). Here we show that mirror invariance represents a major leash for reading fluency acquisition in first graders. We used a causal approach, specifically targeting mirror invariance for letters and observing an unprecedented twofold increase in reading fluency. This gain is achieved with as little as 7.5 hours of multisensory-motor training for mirror letters, mostly with eyes closed, in a synergic combination with post-training sleep. Indeed, the magnitude, automaticity, and duration of this learning were greatly enhanced by sleep, which keeps the gains perfectly intact even after 4 months, being critical to double reading fluency with such short training. The results were consistently replicated in three randomized controlled trials using an ecologically valid school-based design. They not only reveal an extreme case of cognitive plasticity in humans (ie, the inhibition of at least~ 25 million years-old visual mechanism in just three weeks) for a cultural activity (reading) but at the same time also show a simple and cost-effective way to unleash the reading fluency potential of millions of children worldwide.

The whole paper is available here.

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