Michael A. Skeide receives ERC Starting Grant

September 03, 2019
The European Research Council (ERC) has announced a list of top researchers in Europe that were awarded with an ERC Starting Grant. Among them is Michael A. Skeide, who will receive 1.73 million euros to pursue his 5-year project "SLANG - How the brain learns to see language". The proposed work will give fundamental insights into how the developing brain makes learning to read possible.  

The learning brain

In his new project, Michael Skeide will explore the neurobiological resources that allow children to learn to read. He will test the hypothesis that the brain does not develop an entirely new computational code for reading, but builds upon a pre-existing basic audiovisual integration code that is already at work in infants and can be found even in nonhuman primates. This code is thought to be essential for reading, no matter whether children learn the English alphabet, Chinese characters or Hindi aksharas.

Field site neuroscience

It is difficult to determine how children learn to read as Western-educated-industrialized-rich-democratic (aka WEIRD) populations simultaneously receive training in, for example, mathematics. To overcome this limitation, the new project will involve children in rural areas of Northern India that are not able to attend school for economic reasons. These children will receive reading instruction in their villages and undergo fMRI scanning in a culturally adapted child imaging center in Delhi. To capture the nonlinear dynamics of neuroplastic change, 13 scans will be taken over a period of 4 years of instruction.

Neuroscience meets education

The PISA study has shown that reading skills vary substantially between children. Michael Skeide's project explores early predictors of this variability by modeling fMRI data at the level of the individual brain. The proposed work will thus help the EU and other policymakers to improve the quality of early childhood education by identifying targets for early intervention programs that maximize individual potential.

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