+ Touch Makes Connection Between Letter and Sound

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According to the research team headed by Edouard Gentez at the Laboratory of Psychology and Neurocognition at Grenoble, the sense of touch allows us to make a better connection between sight and hearing, and therefore helps people learn to read.

The results have been published in the journal PloS One.  It is believed that this information should improve learning methods for children learning to read as well as for adults learning foreign languages.

In order to read words we’ve never seen before, we have to learn to associate a visual stimulus (a letter, or grapheme) with its corresponding auditory stimulus (the sound, or phoneme).

When visual stimuli can be explored both auditorily and by touch, adults learn arbitrary associations between auditory and visual stimuli more efficiently.

How did researchers reach this conclusion?

Using a group of thirty French-speaking adults, they compared two learning methods with which the adults had to learn 15 new visual stimuli, inspired by Japanese character, and their 15 corresponding sounds (new auditory stimuli with no associated meaning).

The two methods differed in the senses used to explore the visual stimuli. 

  • The first, “classic,” method used only vision. 
  • The second, “multisensory,” method used touch as well as vision for the perception of the visual stimuli.

After the learning phase, the researchers measured the performances of each adult using different tests. 

The first two tests respectively measured the learning capacity for visual and auditory stimuli using recognition tests.  In a visual test a visual stimulus had to be recognized among 5 new visual stimuli.  In an auditory test, the target had to be recognized among 5 new sounds.

They found all the participants had acquired an above-chance ability to recognize the visual and auditory stimuli using the two methods.

The researchers then went on to test the participants by two other methods, this time to measure the capacity to learn associations between visual and auditory stimuli. 

In the “visual-auditory” test, the subject was presented with a visual stimulus and had to recognize its corresponding sound among five other sounds.  In the “auditory-visual” test, the opposite was done.

The results of this testing showed that the subjects were capable of learning the ssociations with both learning methods, but that their performances were much better using the  “multisensory” learning method.

And when the subjects were given the same tests a week after the learning phase, the results were the same.

These results support those already found by the same team, in work done with young children.  The explication lies in the specific properties of the “haptic” sense (touch, ability to feel the letters) in the hands, which plays a “cementing” role between sight and hearing, favoring the connection between the senses.

What goes on in the brain remains to be explored, as does the neuronal mechanism.  The researchers plan to develop a protocol that will let them use fMRI to watch the brain in action and see which areas of the cortex are activated during “multisensory” learning.

sole source:  article in Science Daily on 3/18/09, “Touch Helps Make the Connection Between Sight and Hearing.”  Edouard Gentez is CNRS researcher at the Laboratoire de Psychologie et Neurocognition in Grenoble/ Universite Pierre Mendes France de Grenoble/Universite de Savoie.   http://sciencedaily.com

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