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Abstract: Learning to read is associated with the appearance of an orthographically sensitive brain region known as the visual word form area. It has been claimed that development of this area proceeds by impinging upon territory otherwise available for the processing of culturally relevant stimuli such as faces and houses. In a large-scale functional magnetic resonance imaging study of a group of individuals of varying degrees of literacy (from completely illiterate to highly literate), we examined cortical responses to orthographic and nonorthographic visual stimuli. We found that literacy enhances responses to other visual input in early visual areas and enhances representational similarity between text and faces, without reducing the extent of response to nonorthographic input. Thus, acquisition of literacy in childhood recycles existing object representation mechanisms but without destructive competition.

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