The modulatory influence of literacy on the cognitive system of the human brain has been indicated in behavioral, neuroanatomic, and functional neuroimaging studies. In this study we explored the functional consequences of formal education and the acquisition of an alphabetic written language on two- and three-dimensional visual naming. The results show that illiterate subjects perform significantly worse on immediate naming of two-dimensional representations of common everyday objects compared to literate subjects, both in terms of accuracy and reaction times. In contrast, there was no significant difference when the subjects named the corresponding real objects. The results suggest that formal education and learning to read and to write modulate the cognitive process involved in processing two- but not three-dimensional representations of common everyday objects. Both the results of the reaction time and the error pattern analyses can be interpreted as indicating that the major influence of literacy affects the visual system or the interaction between the visual and the language systems. We suggest that the visual system in a wide sense and/or the interface between the visual and the language system are differently formatted in literate and illiterate subjects. In other words, we hypothesize that the pattern of interactions in the functional-anatomical networks subserving visual naming, that is, the interactions within and between the visual and language processing networks, differ in literate and illiterate subjects.
Copyright 2001 Elsevier Science.