Reading and Visualization

Learning to read is very important in basic education. Reading and listening are ways by which we can receive information and build knowledge. How we process what we hear or read and derive meaning is comprehension. How well an individual can visualize the text is important in both engagement and comprehension especially with children who are just beginning to learn to read. Experiments performed decades ago by Brooks decades ago have shown "a conflict between reading verbal messages and imagining the spatial relations described by those messages." Clearly, connecting reading and imagination does not occur readily. Like other children, my son and daughter like seeing pictures in the books that they read. I likewise enjoy reading cartoon strips. Who doesn't? Illustrations help. With the internet and television, these illustrations can be animated. That makes it even more attractive. Recent research, however, shows that with regard to helping children with language processing, there is a "Goldilocks effect". Simply reading or listening to text maybe "too cold". Animation is "too hot". And providing some illustration (static) is "just right".

Processing information from either language or vision occurs in different parts of the brain. Language processing is believed to occur in the regions of the brain called Broca's and Wernicke's areas.


Above copied from


With functional imaging, networks connecting these areas can now be observed, allowing scientists to measure how well visualization and reading are integrated.

Above copied from
John Hutton, Yuanfang Xu, Thomas DeWitt, Tzipi Horowitz-Kraus, Richard Ittenbach
"Goldilocks Effect? Illustrated Story Format Seems 'Just Right' and Animation 'Too Hot' for Integration of Functional Brain Networks in Preschool-Age Children"

Hutton and coworkers presented two studies at the recent meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies. With smartphones and tablets, it is almost a given that young children are nowadays introduced to screens. The first study allows for a quantitative measure of how much children are exposed to screens. The assessment called ScreenQ includes 10 items (three access, two frequency, three content, two interactivity). Scores in this new assessment are found to negatively correlate with StimQ Read (a measure of a child's home's cognitive environment), PPVT (a measure of receptive vocabulary), EVT (a measure of expressive vocabulary) scores. The second study perhaps provides the reason why there is a negative correlation between screen time and these reading and vocabulary scores. By using three different formats in delivering a story, (1) audio only, (2) audio and illustration, and (3) animation, and performing brain functional imaging, Hutton and coworkers are able to demonstrate that with audio and illustration, a greater connectivity is seen between language and visual areas. The results are summarized below:

Above copied from
John Hutton, Yuanfang Xu, Thomas DeWitt, Tzipi Horowitz-Kraus, Richard Ittenbach
"Goldilocks Effect? Illustrated Story Format Seems 'Just Right' and Animation 'Too Hot' for Integration of Functional Brain Networks in Preschool-Age Children"

Functional connectivity (FC) between visual and semantic regions is enhanced (red) when the story comes with illustration. Functional connectivity, however, suffers, when the story is delivered with animation. The stories used in this study are those of Robert Munsch. Examples of animated videos for these books can be found on Youtube.

There are reasons why screen time must be limited to young children. These new data point to another reason. If we want those connections in our children's brains to start lighting up, we should avoid telling them stories with action or animation.


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