Shelagh Robinson Mirror Read Blog 30: Unlocking the Secrets of Mirror Reading – in Spain

The race is on!  Suddenly, around the globe, the smartest minds are pursuing investigations of mirror reading in the brain. Every day, it seems, new data is emerging on what happens in our hemispheres as we decode reversed text.
It’s the next chapter in learning.

Mysteries persist: That’s why so many neuroscientists the world over are focused on investigating cortical activations when we mirror read. Even with all our modern technologies, we still have much to learn about neuronal recycling, the benefits of processing back words, and ‘skill-transfers’ to everyday aptitudes.

One of the latest studies, “Through the Looking Glass: Mirror Reading” comes out of Spain, by Jon Andoni Duñabeitia and colleagues from the Basque Centre on Cognition, Brain and Languages. Published in the journal NeuroImage, (Feb, 2011), their research reveals that people possess innate abilities to read in reverse without even thinking about it – before they have even perceived whether a word is composed of mirrored text or not.

The importance of this finding lies in the instinctive art of mental flexibility: Transformation.

The ability to recognize objects, and characters, from different perspectives is highly adaptive for primate survival. Quickly and correctly distinguishing visual stimuli, regardless of orientation, can convey millisecond advantages when time counts.

In the study, participant brain activity was monitored using a form of electroencephalograph known as Event-Related Potentials (ERPs). They were exposed to words in which a few letters, or entire words, were presented in mirror format (for example HTUOM instead of MOUTH).

Duñabeitia’s results showed that at the earliest stage of processing, between 150 and 250 millisecond exposure times, participants’ brains reacted to mirrored text in exactly the same way as they reacted to regularly oriented words and letters.

At this initial stage, human visual systems are able to rotate the reversed words and recognize them, although, Duñabeitia notes, “the brain then immediately detects that this is not the correct order and ‘remembers’ that it should not process them in this way.”

It is in this instant of awareness that mirror reading becomes a challenging, and constructive, mental exercise.

Here’s the thing: When we learn to read, right to left, or left to right, we learn to inhibit this natural transformative mirror flexibility. And while that’s to our advantage as children when learning to decode efficiently, as adults, many of us are looking to stretch ourselves and decode creatively, too.

Check out your own right brain skills with Mirror Read apps on iTunes. See how naturally you can read in reverse, before your inhibitions kick in…

Duñabeitia, Jon Andoni, Molinaro, Nicola and Carreiras Manuel. (February, 2011). “Through the looking-glass: Mirror reading”. NeuroImage 54 (4): 3004.


3 Responses to Shelagh Robinson Mirror Read Blog 30: Unlocking the Secrets of Mirror Reading – in Spain

  1. Koyie says:

    Essays like this are so important to broadening people’s horizons. Thanks!

  2. Ariel Ashburn says:

    Derivatives of the EEG technique include evoked potentials (EP), which involves averaging the EEG activity time-locked to the presentation of a stimulus of some sort (visual, somatosensory, or auditory). Event-related potentials (ERPs) refer to averaged EEG responses that are time-locked to more complex processing of stimuli;.”^”

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    • shelagh says:

      HI Ariel,
      I appreciate the enlightening comment. When it comes to EEG technologies, we have so much to learn about mirror reading.
      I look forward to reading the article you linked.

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