Overlooked Forces of Dyslexia – Critical to Human Adaptive Success

People with dyslexia specialize in exploring the unknown, according to a new study from the University of Cambridge.

Researchers say people with developmental dyslexia have specific strengths related to exploring the unknown that have contributed to the successful adaptation and survival of our species.

Scientists from the University of Cambridge who study cognition, behavior and the brain have concluded that people with dyslexia are specialized in exploring the unknown. It probably plays 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.

“The deficit-centric view of dyslexia doesn’t tell the whole story. This research offers a new framework to help us better understand the cognitive strengths of people with dyslexia. — Dr. Helen Taylor

Based on these research findings – which were apparent across multiple domains, from visual processing to memory and across all levels of analysis – scientists argue that we need to change our view of dyslexia as a neurological disorder.

The results, reported June 24, 2022, in the journal Frontiers in Psychologyhave implications at both an individual and societal level, 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 encountered by people with dyslexia result from a cognitive trade-off between exploring new information and exploiting 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 dyslexia studies.

“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 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.

The results were published on June 24, 2022 in the journal, Frontiers in Psychology.

Reference: “Developmental dyslexia: disorder or specialization in exploration? by Helen Taylor and Martin David Vestergaard, June 24, 2022, Frontiers in Psychology.
DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.889245

The research was funded by the Hunter Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Strathclyde.

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