Summary: Researchers say people with dyslexia specialize in exploring the unknown. This exploratory bias has an evolutionary basis that plays a crucial role in human survival.
Source: University of Cambridge
Cambridge researchers studying cognition, behavior and the brain have concluded that people with dyslexia are specialized in exploring the unknown. This is likely to play a fundamental role in human adaptation to changing environments.
They believe that this “exploratory bias” has an evolutionary basis and plays a crucial role in our survival.
Based on these findings, which have manifested themselves in multiple domains, from visual processing to memory and across all levels of analysis, the researchers argue that we need to change our view of dyslexia as a neurological disorder.
The results, published today in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, have implications at both individual and societal levels, says lead author Dr Helen Taylor, a researcher affiliated with the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge and a research associate at the University of Strathclyde.
“The deficit-centric view of dyslexia doesn’t tell the whole story,” Taylor said. “This research offers a new framework to help us better understand the cognitive strengths of people with dyslexia.”
She added: “We believe that the areas of difficulty experienced by people with dyslexia result from a cognitive trade-off between exploration of new information and exploitation of existing knowledge, the advantage being an exploratory bias that could explain the abilities increases observed in some areas. such as discovery, invention and creativity.
This is the first time that an interdisciplinary approach using an evolutionary perspective has been applied in the analysis of studies on dyslexia.
“Schools, colleges and workplaces are not designed to make the most of exploratory learning. But we urgently need to start nurturing this way of thinking to allow humanity to continue to adapt and solve key challenges,” Taylor said.
Dyslexia affects up to 20% of the general population, regardless of country, culture and region of the world. It is defined by the World Federation of Neurology as “a disorder in children who, despite classic classroom experience, fail to acquire the language skills in reading, writing and spelling commensurate with their intellectual abilities”.
The new findings are explained in the context of “complementary cognition”, a theory proposing that our ancestors evolved to specialize in different but complementary ways of thinking, which enhances humans’ ability to adapt through the collaboration.
These cognitive specializations are rooted in a well-known trade-off between exploring new information and exploiting existing knowledge. For example, if you eat all the food you have, you might starve when it’s gone. But if you spend all your time looking for food, you’re wasting energy that you don’t need to waste. As in any complex system, we must be careful to balance our need to exploit known resources and explore new resources to survive.
“Finding a balance between exploring new opportunities and exploiting the benefits of a particular choice is the key to adaptation and survival and underlies many of the decisions we make in our daily lives,” Taylor said.
Exploration encompasses activities that involve the search for the unknown such as experimentation, discovery and innovation. In contrast, exploitation is about using what is already known, including refinement, efficiency, and selection.
“Given this trade-off, exploratory specialization in people with dyslexia could help explain why they struggle with exploitation-related tasks, such as reading and writing.
“It could also explain why people with dyslexia seem to gravitate toward certain occupations that require exploration-related abilities, such as the arts, architecture, engineering, and entrepreneurship.”
The researchers found that their findings were consistent with evidence from several other areas of research. For example, an exploratory bias in such a large proportion of the population indicates that our species must have evolved during a time of great uncertainty and change.
This is consistent with findings in the field of paleoarchaeology, revealing that human evolution has been shaped over hundreds of thousands of years by dramatic climatic and environmental instability.
The researchers point out that collaboration between individuals with different abilities could help explain the exceptional adaptability of our species.
About this Dyslexia and Evolutionary Neuroscience Research News
Author: Press office
Source: University of Cambridge
Contact: Press Office – University of Cambridge
Image: Image is in public domain
Original research: Free access.
“Developmental Dyslexia: Developmental Disorder or Specialization in Exploratory Cognitive Research” by Helen Taylor et al. Frontiers in Psychology
Developmental dyslexia: developmental disorder or specialization in exploratory cognitive research
We raise the novel possibility that people diagnosed with developmental dyslexia (DD) specialize in exploratory cognitive research, and rather than having a neurocognitive disorder, play an essential role in human adaptation.
Most research on DD has investigated educational difficulties, with theories framing differences in neurocognitive processes as deficits. However, people with DD are often offered to have certain strengths—especially in areas like discovery, invention, and creativity—that deficit-focused theories cannot explain.
We examine whether these strengths reflect an underlying exploratory specialization. We review experimental studies in psychology and neuroscience using the framework of cognitive researchwhere many psychological processes involve a trade-off between exploration and exploitation.
We report evidence for an exploratory bias in cognitive strategies associated with DD. A high prevalence of DD and a concomitant exploratory bias in several domains of cognition suggest the existence of exploratory specialization.
An evolutionary perspective explains the combination of findings and challenges the idea that people with DD have a disorder. In cooperating groups, individual specialization is favored when characteristics that confer fitness advantages are functionally incompatible.
Evidence for research specialization suggests that, as with some other social organisms, humans mediate the exploration-exploitation trade-off by specializing in complementary strategies.
The existence of a collective cognitive research system emerging from collaboration would help explain the exceptional adaptive capacity of our species. It is also consistent with evidence of substantial variability over our evolutionary history and the notion that humans are not adapted to a particular habitat but to variability itself.
Specialization creates interdependence and requires balancing complementary strategies. Reframing DD therefore underlines the urgency of changing certain cultural practices to ensure that adaptation is not hindered.
Key improvements would eliminate cultural barriers to exploration and promote exploratory learning in education, academia and the workplace, while emphasizing collaboration rather than competition. Specialization in complementary research abilities represents a meta-adaptation; through collaboration, it probably allows human groups (as species and as cultural systems) to adapt successfully.
A cultural shift to support this system of collaborative research may therefore be essential to address the challenges currently facing humanity.
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