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The ex-illiterate brain: The critical period, cognitive reserve and HAROLD model

O cérebro ex-analfabeto: o período crítico, reserva cognitiva e o modelo HAROLD

Abstract

The lifelong acquisition of cognitive skills shapes the biology of the brain. However, there are critical periods for the best use of the brain to process the acquired information.

Objectives:

To discuss the critical period of cognitive acquisition, the concept of cognitive reserve and the HAROLD (Hemispheric Asymmetry Reduction in Older adults) model.

Methods:

Seven women who learned how to read and to write after the age of 50 (ex-illiterates) and five women with 10 years of regular schooling (controls) were submitted to a language recognition test while brain activity was being recorded using magnetoencephalography. Spoken words were delivered binaurally via two plastic tubs terminating in ear inserts, and recordings were made with a whole head magnetometer consisting of 148 magnetometer coils.

Results:

Both groups performed similarly on the task of identifying target words. Analysis of the number of sources of activity in the left and right hemispheres revealed significant differences between the two groups, showing that ex-illiterate subjects exhibited less brain functional asymmetry during the language task.

Conclusions:

These results should be interpreted with caution because the groups were small. However, these findings reinforce the concept that poorly educated subjects tend to use the brain for information processing in a different way to subjects with a high educational level or who were schooled at the regular time. Finally, the recruiting of both hemispheres to tackle the language recognition test occurred to a greater degree in the ex-illiterate group where this can be interpreted as a sign of difficulty performing the task.

Key words:
illiteracy; magnetoencephalography; cognitive reserve; brain asymmetry; language; HAROLD model.

Resumo

A aquisição ao longo da vida de competências cognitivas moldam a biologia do cérebro. No entanto, existem períodos críticos para o cérebro processar melhor as informações adquiridas.

Objetivos:

Discutir o período crítico de aquisição cognitiva, o conceito de reserva cognitiva e o modelo HAROLD (Redução da Assimetria Hemisférica em Idosos).

Métodos:

Sete mulheres que aprenderam a ler e escrever após a idade de 50 anos (ex-analfabetos) e cinco mulheres com 10 anos de escolaridade regular (controles) foram submetidas a um teste de reconhecimento de palavras enquanto a atividade cerebral estava sendo registrada mediante magnetoencefalografia. As palavras foram ouvidas com o emprego de dois tubos plásticos conectados a cada orelha e as gravações foram feitas com um magnetômetro de cabeça inteira com 148 bobinas de registro.

Resultados:

Ambos os grupos tiveram desempenho semelhante na identificação das palavras-alvo. Análise do número de fontes de atividade no hemisfério esquerdo e no hemisfério direito revelou diferenças significativas entre os dois grupos, mostrando que os ex-analfabetos tiveram menor assimetria cerebral funcional no desempenho da tarefa.

Conclusões:

Estes resultados devem ser interpretados com cautela, pois os grupos são pequenos. No entanto, reforçam o conceito que os indivíduos com baixa escolaridade tendem a usar o cérebro para processar informações de uma forma diferente do que indivíduos com nível educacional elevado ou que tenham o adquirido na época regular. Finalmente, o recrutamento de ambos os hemisférios para reconhecer as palavras ocorreu mais intensamente no grupo de ex-analfabetos e pode ser interpretado como um sinal de maior dificuldade na tarefa.

Palavras-chave:
analfabetismo; magnetoencefalografia; reserva cognitiva; assimetria cerebral; linguagem; modelo HAROLD.

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Publication Dates

  • Publication in this collection
    Jul-Sep 2009

History

  • Received
    20 Mar 2009
  • Accepted
    30 June 2009
Academia Brasileira de Neurologia, Departamento de Neurologia Cognitiva e Envelhecimento R. Vergueiro, 1353 sl.1404 - Ed. Top Towers Offices, Torre Norte, São Paulo, SP, Brazil, CEP 04101-000, Tel.: +55 11 5084-9463 | +55 11 5083-3876 - São Paulo - SP - Brazil
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