Dr. Zvia Breznitz  - Asynchrony: Timing Differences Between
Processing Modalities Can Cause Reading Difficulties


Rate of Reading 
Two Modes: Auditory and Visual 
Pushing the Brain to Work Faster 
Short-Circuiting the Phonological Loop 
Whole Words and Letter Sounds 
No Evolutionary Support for Reading 
Disambiguation Takes Time
The Temporal Profile of Oral Language 
Time and Working Memory
Reading and Disambiguation Time 
Big Bottleneck 
Early Language Exercise & Later Reading 
The Effect of Affect on Cognition


Dr. Zvia Breznitz is the Director of the Laboratory for Neurocognitive Research at the University of Haifa in Israel. She is also a Member of the University's Brain and Behavior Center and the Academic director of the Student support clinic for the diagnosis and remediation of learning disabilities.  Dr. Breznitz is the head of a national (Israel) project involving the development of tools for the detection and diagnosis of learning disabilities in Hebrew, English and Arabic. She is the author of dozens of papers on brain processes related to reading.  Her book: Fluency in Reading: Synchronization of Processes is an important contribution to reading science. Additional bio info

In our investigation of the correspondence between the 'code' and the 'challenges involved in learning to read it', we have talked with many neuroscientists. The trail of recommendations and research led us to Dr. Zvia Breznitz. In her lab, she measures electrophysiological parameters of interactivity among critical sub-processes involved in the brain's production of the reading stream. Her work evidences how different parts of the brain must cooperate in very narrow time windows if the reading stream is to flow at the pace necessary to sustain the flow of comprehension processing.  

We talked with Dr. Breznitz in her Haifa, Israel lab. In reading this interview it may be helpful to know that Dr. Zvia Breznitz speaks English in a very elegant yet unique way. Her dialect, speech patterns, and accent sound like a feminine Albert Einstein. As a consequence the following transcript may read somewhat different than our other interviews.

News 2-12-2013 - Nature.com published an article "Adults with dyslexia improve when pushed to read faster" which features Dr. Breznitz's work.

 See copyright policy for info on the free use of this content

Share this:          

The following transcript has not been edited for journal or magazine publication (see 'Interview Notes' for more details). Bold is used to emphasize our [Children of the Code] sense of the importance of what is being said and does not necessarily reflect gestures or tones of emphasis that occurred during the interview.


David Boulton: I am delighted to find you. I have been particularly interested in understanding the brain processing overhead of disambiguating the code. Meaning by that, as I look at children or adults who are struggling to read, I see a direct correspondence between the hesitations, starts, stops and stutters in their articulations, and the particular area of code that theyíre dealing with and the kind of confusion that theyíre experiencing at that level of the code.

I recently had email dialogues with Donna Koch at Dartmouth and interviewed Mary Ann Wolf at Tufts.  We previously interviewed Keith Stanovich, Paula Tallal and others. What I really want to understand and shine light on is the degree to which our reading difficulties are reflections of the processing time itís taking to resolve the codeís letter-sound correspondence ambiguities. 

Dr.Zvia Breznitz: Yes, I understand.

David Boulton: So, that has led me on this quest to understand that dimension and most of the neuroscientists donít function in that space. They donít have the technology or the mental models to peer into that window of confluence and interconnections across all of the different modules in the brain that have to feed into the Ďassemblyí within the timing windows necessary to make reading work.

With that as background, what Iíd like to ask from you is first to give me a little background on yourself and how it is that you come to do this kind of work. From there weíll go to some more specific questions about how the virtual reality experience we call reading is constructed. 

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Iím a professor here at the University of Haifa in Israel. I am currently the head of the Learning Disability Department, which is a graduate program.

I have been doing research in the reading area for about twenty-five years now. I think that when I started I was one of the first in Israel. We didnít have the set up that you have in America. I learned in the United States, finished my degree there and then I came to Israel. Essentially, in what we used to call a Special Education Department or Educational Psychology there was an empty space in the area of research in reading and I started to do it. About ten years ago on one of my sabbaticals in New York I studied electrophysiology and I started to do research incorporating electophysiological parameters mainly because I was studying the issue of processing time in reading activity.

Thatís how I came to study more in depth assembly processing, as you called it, how the processing time affects the reading activity in general and the reading disabilities in particular.

Now for your second question, maybe I will give you a very short overview.   

Rate of Reading Affects Comprehension and Decoding Quality:

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Basically what we found here many years ago is that the dyslexics are very slow. When I started to study the relationship between the various components of reading activity we found that at least in Hebrew (at that time it was only in Hebrew) that there was a causal relationship between reading time and comprehension and what we call accuracy or decoding accuracy. Reading time affects the level of the quality of the comprehension and decoding.

David Boulton: What do you mean when you say reading time?

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Simply the time it takes to read passages is what Iím talking about. Weíve distinguished now between behavioral measures and actual reading time measured by computer.

David Boulton: So, youíre talking about words per minute.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Yes, words per minute. The same thing, words per minute and reading time on various lengths and complexity of text.

We found by analyzing the data with sophisticated measures, statistical measures and pattern analysis that reading rate or reading time is an independent variable which effects the level of comprehension and the decoding. Not just what we believed until then, that the level of decoding effects the words per minute, but there is a reciprocal relationship.

So, I started to study these phenomena in depth. In the laboratory we manipulated reading rates at various levels with dyslexic third graders all the way to dyslexics and non-dyslexics. We measured and manipulated the presentation time of words to see the effects on the levels of decoding and comprehension.

David Boulton: You mean how long a word would appear on a screen?

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Exactly. Now, it was related to each individual time. We are not just manipulating the reading time arbitrarily, but we measure the basic average time of each individualís rate of word per minute, sentence per minute, whatever, and from that we are trying to push it a little faster. We need to present the sentences on the screen in a faster way.

David Boulton: Right. So, you increment up the speed at which the change is going to stretch their mind into performing faster.  


Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Yes. And we found something very funny, very strange at the time. It was a reductive study that we did here in Israel and then later in America with American kids and students. Now the procedure has been replicated in Germany and France. We found that each of us, whether we are good or poor readers, can do better. Basically, the mind or the brain can work better. You just have to stretch it a little bit.

So, even a good reader can do better or can read faster. Why he is not doing that is because the brain is lazy, just lazy. Once he solves the solution heís going to again and again to same old thing.

David Boulton: So, the processing infrastructure kind of finds its way into a rut.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Exactly. So, thatís one thing. The second thing is the dyslexic, now we are coming to hesitation and fluency. The dyslexic mind has some additional problems and one of them is that the template of the word is not stored properly. And every time he has to look for it, he has to connect the grapheme to phoneme almost every time that he reads. So he learns to hesitate in order to produce it as much as he can in an accurate way.

David Boulton: So his or her brain learned to hesitate in order to allow the syncromesh to happen between the different components that have to feed in. 

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Right, exactly. Thatís one thing. And when you push the brain to work a little faster he doesnít have the time to hesitate. So, heís doing whatever he needs to do in order to do it and most of the time he can do it a little bit better.

Two Modes: Auditory and Visual  

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Later on what we found out was that one of the reasons that the brain of the dyslexic doesnít develop a total template of the word, of the phoneme grapheme correspondence, is because the reading basically relies on activity of the two modes: of the auditory or the auditory phonology and the visual orthography mode.

Now enter the integration between the two.

David Boulton: Yes, which is a lot more complex in different orthographies.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Absolutely. Basically, whether we are talking about Hebrew, Arabic or Semitic languages or any of the Romance languages, basically you have to see the symbols of the printed material and you have to make some kind of acoustic representation of them. So, it can be any language. The matching between the visual symbol and the acoustic phonological one does not only rely on the accuracy of the correspondence but also on the time it takes both modalities to process the information.

David Boulton: Right. And so it takes time even in a purely phonetic system to get the association between the visual and the auditory, and then in a non-phonetic system, where there is a greater context dependant variation in the sound value that accompanies a letter, there is more processing time involved to associate those two correctly.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Exactly.

The Gap Between Modality Speeds: Asynchrony

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Now, we know from neurobiology one modality is processing information on a different time schedule than the other one. We know that what really affects the process is the gap between the processing speed of the two modalities. A larger gap, like what we found among the dyslexic readers, doesnít effectuate appropriate matching between the sound and the visual symbol. It doesnít allow it. It causes a mismatch.

David Boulton: It goes too slow for the stream to cohere.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Exactly. Because everything has to be fast enough because you are processing information within the limitations of the information processing system.

So, there is a fading out in the auditory memory in the place where it has to be matched because one modality is processing at a faster speed compared to the other one. So the effect of an inappropriate template being stored is the gap or what we call asynchrony.

David Boulton: Itís exactly the right term. I get it completely.

Zvia Breznitz: So, what we found is that even among adult dyslexic university students, what we call compensated dyslexics, we found a huge gap - I mean the largest gap - between the processing time of the two modalities. In order to study processing time I had to learn electrophysiology and evoked potential techniques that will give us the information not like the reaction time at the end of the process, but online information about the perception stage, the memory stage, and then on the output.  

Pushing the Brain to Work Faster:

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: That is why at my laboratory we are using electrophysiology parameters in order to study processing time. Now, when we manipulated the presentation time to exaggerate these phenomena, we found something very interesting. We manipulated the presentation time, again according to the individual subject Ė to the level of speed of individual subject -  and we put the subject where we could study them with the aid of functional MRI and we found that when we pushed the dyslexic to work faster, within their own limit of capacity of course, we saw that the activation of the brain became much closer to that of regular readers.

The brain imaging studies, allowed us to see the acceleration phenomena up to each individualís upper limit.

David Boulton: You stretched them out of their pattern and so they became more normal.  

Short-Circuiting the Phonological Loop:

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Exactly. So, the pattern that we saw in the magnetic imaging was very similar, mainly in the area which we call the Broca area. Why there? Because when they read at their own self-paced time the Broca area is activating immensely, meaning that they are wasting time attempting to sound out, in a silent voice, the sound of the symbols they are processing. 

When we push them to work faster thatís exactly what cut off. The processing time in the Broca area was cut off and the brain became more similar to a normal brain.

David Boulton: So it tried to jump over the phonology a bit.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Exactly! Short-circuiting the phonological loop.  

What Iím telling you was in Hebrew.

David Boulton: Which is more phonetic and lends itself to your experiments better.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: In a way. I know people think that with written English you need to rely more on the phonological system because there are many, many irregularities in the English script. Whereas in Hebrew, vowelized Hebrew is not complicated, but unvowelized Hebrew is very, very, complicated.

David Boulton: Yes, it has comparable or even greater ambiguities.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Exactly.

David Boulton: Did you do a comparison between vowel-Hebrew and non-vowel-Hebrew at the same point?

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: That is what weíre doing right now. Exactly what weíre doing right now.

David Boulton: Great. I think thatís going to say something interesting about how much of the processing delay time is associated with reconciling the ambiguities.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Right. So, you know that my colleagues in America, in the English speaking countries are very keen about a lot of data that indicates that phonology is very important. And what they say is that basically the dyslexics are impaired in their phonological processing. Which is true.

But what Iím saying is if you know that the dyslexic brain is really having some difficulties, why force it to process the information through what we call the ďerootĒ, the sick route.

David Boulton: Yes.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Why not bypass or short-circuit it?

Whole Words and Letter Sounds:

David Boulton: Right, I understand you. But that leads to the whole conversation about whole word visual recognition versus learning to sound out words.  Beginning readers need to learn to sound out words as the mechanism of building up whole word recognition.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Yes, I really think that in general, when you want to be a proficient reader you must not rely on the whole word. You have to learn the phonics. We have a great amount of data that now shows that the whole word approach in not effective.

David Boulton: So the question is, is there a way to get from letters to phonemes without going through the phonological sound-out route.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: I really think that in a way what you do is you speed up one route. What we are doing now are intervention studies here in Israel using Hebrew. We try to find out which route is slower than the other one and what are the gaps between the two processing routes. And we try to speed up one over the other one in order to bring the brain to match the sound and the symbol.

So that is what we are doing right now.

David Boulton: Thatís excellent. Youíre right at ground zero, I think. 

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Yes, okay.  


David Boulton: Letís talk about dyslexia itself for a second. As we just said, the way that people learn, early in the process, results in the brain developing infrastructure for automating the processing. When we talk about dyslexics, thereís clearly some percentage of the population that have some innate, neurobiological variation thatís affecting this level of development.

But thereís also, in our country, over 80% of African-American children in the fourth grade who are reading below proficiency.  Now, most of them are not neurobiologically dyslexic. But they may have learned in ways that did not sufficiently develop the infrastructure required to function at the rates and speeds that are necessary for this whole thing to work.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Yes.

David Boulton: So, itís an acquired 'dyslexia' caused to some degree by having insufficient oral language capabilities at the time that they encountered the confusions of reading.  

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Yes, you are right.


The interview you are reading continues after the following message...  (skip message)

Share this:          

Please sign up to receive notices when we post new articles, videos, and updates.
Sent by Google's FeedBurner. Easily unsubscribe at any time. Never any spam.


No Evolutionary Support for Reading:

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Let me say that the human brain has existed about 60,000 years as such.

David Boulton: As such, yes, depending on whose information you take. Sixty to two hundred thousand years as far as we can tell in terms of language effects on our outward physiology, yes.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Yes, but no system was devoted alongside the evolution of language to reading. Nothing. Nothing to reading. So, basically I think that the reading activity needed to develop itís own kind of system and develop the abilities like a muscle. The brain is a muscle. If you donít develop it appropriately, youíll get up to 80% of Americans that canít read. Or here in Israel, or with the Ehiopians who also canít read right.

We have the same problem, not so much the extent, but we have the same difficulties.

David Boulton: Right. Which I think comes down to fundamentally misperceiving the challenges involved.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Yes, but I think that that can be, unlike the compensated, biological dyslexia, it can be what we call fixed or repaired or remediated. That can be done. There is something to do about that.

David Boulton: And it can be prevented by better understanding how reading works.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Absolutely.

David Boulton: Thatís where we meet.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Yes. 

David Boulton: I think the work youíre doing is fantastic. Iím delighted and honored to meet you.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Thank you. You are most welcome. 

Disambiguation Takes Time:

David Boulton: I want to make a distinction about the timing associated with working out the ambiguity. As you just said, the human brain didnít evolve to do this. What weíre talking about is processing an artifact, a technology.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Yes.

David Boulton: The technology has artificially confusing relationships in it. Theyíre not the kinds of natural confusions that our somatic, proprioceptive systems evolved to differentiate and disambiguate and deal with in nature.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Yes.

David Boulton: Symbol/code processing is distinctly different. And, whereas, in the original, early forms of the alphabet, at least in the Greeks, there was a correspondence between letters and sounds, when this collision happened in the romance languages and the Roman system was Ďforce fití and overlaid onto the sound systems of other languages.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Yes.

David Boulton: The result was that reading was no longer code-cued speech. It now required more complex Ďinternal assemblyí.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Maybe, Vowelized Hebrew is exactly phonically correspondent.

David Boulton: Exactly. But Iím talking about now in English or any other language in which the alphabet and the sound system are not as phonetically correspondent. And that the more complexity involved in that relationship, the more brain time potentially necessary to resolve it.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Yes.

David Boulton: And weíre talking about ultimately, as youíre pointing to in your research, that itís all about timing.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Yes. Phonical translation in time.  

(At least initially) Reading Must Simulate the Temporal Profile of Spoken Language:

David Boulton: Yes, and the synchronization in time. So, on the one hand, in order for reading to work, it must simulate language which has a temporal profile.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Yes.

David Boulton: So, if it goes too fast or it goes too slow in a way it doesnít make sense to us. There is a serial temporal profile to language that the reading engine has to simulate.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Exactly.  And be tuned to.

David Boulton: Yes. So, that creates timing parameters. And so the visual recognition and the phonological recognition and assembly Ė all of that has to happen inside the sensorial-temporal profile window of our language.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Absolutely. Basically, what we said was we have the systems that are operating on a different time scale, a different brain area, and then you have the language itself that requires a different way of dealing with it.

David Boulton: Yes, thatís what it comes back to. If we break it down and we say how much of the time is visual character recognition Ė thatís pretty fast.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Yes very fast.

David Boulton: And obviously, from a sound processing perspective the production and the ability to hear phonemes is happening pretty fast, too, in a different circuit.  

Time and Working Memory:

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Yes. But the problem is that you canít see a word in one shot when you see it and you canít hear a word in one shot because it has a temporal pattern of developing. You have to hold its parts in your working memory for a certain amount of time in order to work out recognition of the word and what does it mean? And that has to be fast enough.

David Boulton: Exactly. And now weíre talking about bringing in all of the pattern variations that associate letters to sounds to words, as well as the context being established by comprehension that has to create the context for interpreting the variations in the letter sounds.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Basically, itís an interactive activity between the comprehension at the lower level and the middle level.

David Boulton: But for beginning readers, which are different than good readers, it relies heavily on the ability to produce the interior experience of a word by going through this letter-sound assembly.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Exactly. 

Reading Difficulties and Code Disambiguation Time:

David Boulton: So, my point is that a significant percentage of the difficulty that most people face, at least in the United States with English, is connected to the time itís taking the brain to work out the letter-sound correspondence fast enough to feed the assembly to comprehension before it stutters and drops out.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Absolutely right. Exactly. And we have some evidence, you know, when you look into the brain of beginning readers or the brain of a dyslexic you see similar kinds of phenomena as the brain is searching for the solution. You see a wider area of activation in the brain compared to a proficient reader or a normal reader or regular reader. 

In the normal readerís brain it is activating for only a short period of time in a very local brain area. Itís not spreading out activation and you can see that he is not looking for a solution. If you know exactly how to go and how to solve the problem you will become a good reader.  

Big Bottleneck: Translating Between Letters and Sounds:

David Boulton: If we were to make a serial temporal map of the cycles of processing involved in reading and looked at the visual input and the phonological assembly and looked at the loop through comprehension memory Ė we would end up with, I think, revealing that the big bottleneck in time is the translation between letters and sounds.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Absolutely. And Iím talking about the lower level of the perception and the processing speeds critical to the perception.

David Boulton: Yes, but thatís critical to the higher levels of comprehension. Itís critical to everything. Itís consuming bandwidth and itís consuming time.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Exactly, but if you donít have the proper template what can you understand? What information can you feed the comprehension system?

David Boulton: As we know, some letter sounds depend on the wordís meaning which depends on the sentence or contextís meaning. So, the amount of buffering that has to happen in time to hold the information necessary to disambiguate the correspondences is very large here, compared to just about anything else humans have every done.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Right. Exactly. And you need to do it quite fast, if the information processing involved in order not to forget or fade out takes too long the process will not work. So, you donít have the time for the system to process the information in a slow manner. Yes, exactly.

David Boulton: Well, this is wonderful. As I talk to neuroscientists and so many other people, they seem to take for granted the confusions in the code so much that they donít look at this dimension.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Exactly. And let me tell you something more. I think that there is a scientist in America called Robert Kail. Heís the one that has been doing research for many years on the speed of processing. He thinks it is a characteristic of the human brain, meaning that it has, whether we are a good or poor reader, it has a certain speed of processing, as a character. And that also contributes to the whole issue of early cognitive processes.

If I have a different processing speed than you that will affect any cognitive activities that we are doing. On top of it is one of the modalities impaired in terms of speed or slowness, so that its an additional cause that affects the entire reading process? Am I clear?  

Early Language Exercise and Later Reading:

David Boulton: Yes, completely. One of the people that weíve interviewed is a researcher by the name of Todd Risley. He co-wrote the book called, Meaning Differences in the Everyday Experiences of American Children, where they studied language exposure across the socio-economic spectrum of children in a very well done research project. What they found is that the difference between taciturn parents, parents that donít talk very much, and talkative parents resulted in an almost forty million word exposure difference by age four.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Hmm.

David Boulton: And that that difference in word exposure, just language, has a really strong correspondence to third and fourth grade reading scores and has a .78 correspondence to the Stanford-Binet Intelligence test.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Hmm.

David Boulton: So, that makes perfect sense that the language environment is the primary exercise environment of the verbal muscle.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Yes.

David Boulton: And so children that have more complex, high speed language environments that theyíre engaging in are being exercised in a way that prepares them for reading later because of processing speed issues, because of phonemic awareness differentiation issues and because of vocabulary, thatís radically different than those that are not having that kind of nurturing verbal environment.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Very interesting.

David Boulton: So, what Iím trying to say is, that for the most part, the variation we see in the performance of children coming into reading has less to do with their bio-physiological differences and more to do with their learning environment differences.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Exactly. One of the good hopes about the whole issue is that because we are so focused on the phonological difficulties of learning the code, as you say, the timing is improved in the intervention programs that focus on phonological training. And that helps to increase phonologically the processing fluency and accuracy.

And we know that we can train the brain to do better. I think that when we focus on trainings that actually tackle the problem directly we can do it.

David Boulton: Yes, which is like doing a deconstruction of the process to feed neuroplastic exercise.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Exactly.

David Boulton: Are you familiar with Keith Raynerís work?

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: On the eye movements?

David Boulton: Yes.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Yes.

David Boulton: Are you familiar with Paula Tallalís Fast ForWord program?

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Itís a very controversial one.

David Boulton: Yes, okay. Forgive me if Iím being naÔve with you.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: You know, in Hebrew we have a different difficulty.

David Boulton: Right. What youíre describing as far as the exercise seems to be along the lines of the principal intentions of those two different directions. Keith Rayner uses narrowing windows and higher speed visual word presentation and Fast ForWord uses variations in increasing the speed of sounds recognition Ė both of which are different dimensions of exercising what youíre describing.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: I think that if you really would like to train the brain to do better, what we found in Hebrew was that when you use context. I mean, we are talking about sentences and not about separate phonemes Ė you can do better because there is a reciprocity between comprehension and decoding and it helps more to induce this reading speed and understanding and reduce the decoding errors.

I would argue that maybe instead of taking phonemes like Fast ForWord is doing, to take more larger chunks of words in context.

David Boulton: Right. So, in this sense, weíre talking about something that has some of the principles of Whole Language meaning that you want to create meaningful experiences that increase the interest and that are comprehensible, on the one hand. At the same time you want to structure that in a way thatís calling attention to the letter-sound patterns in a way that the code can be learned. They both have to function together.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Yes, exactly. Iím not talking about acquiring reading skills, Iím talking about later on training. The training system later on.

David Boulton: Okay, understood. My primary concern is weíve got many millions of children in our school systems whose lives are being twisted because they canít learn to do this well.

The Effect of Affect on Cognition:

David Boulton: There is one other piece that I want to talk about and that is the effect of affect on cognition. And in particular, it seems that children or adults who struggle with reading blame themselves.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Yes, the same with society here.

David Boulton: They think that the confusion that theyíre experiencing and the difficulty theyíre experiencing is some reflection of something wrong with them. This quickly snowballs over time, for people that have difficulty over the course of trying to take off in reading, into an aversion to reading. You talk to a lot of people that have had difficulty with this and they want to avoid it because it triggers this feeling about themselves. Thatís a gross level emotional thing. (see Shame Stories)

But at a finer level, it seems that the moment that somebody goes into self-consciousness about doing this it distracts the brain, distracts and consumes bandwidth and it eats up time. So that in addition to the purely code language level processing, thereís an emotional component on the one side creating the interest that powers the attention and on the other side, as soon as it goes negative, busting up and stuttering up the processing fluidity. This is a cognitive problem in the sense that it is fundamentally affecting the cognitive processing ecology and efficiency.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Exactly. I think the only way to deal with it is if there is a way to identify any cognitive reading difficulties as early as possible and to prevent all kinds of emotional difficulties and reciprocity between the two.

David Boulton: Yes. My question is, do you know anybody, or have you yourself tried to use your equipment to detect, the triggering of negative affect and its effects, the disruption and turbulence that happens to cognition, during the task of reading?

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Not that I know of.

David Boulton: Given the time precarious nature of all of this, this seems like itís a critically important component to understanding reading at this deep level.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Yes, exactly. Iím sure that the results are positive between the two, between the affect level and cognitive difficulties. Definitely. We know it from the hyper-active phenomena which is causing the effect of the comorbidity of hyperactivity and reading difficulties. Which one effects what? Itís the same thing.

I think that there is somebody who was doing the research on the affect effect on learning disabilities in general. Sheís a lady in the Special Education Department at the University of Toronto. Her name is Judy Winer, but sheís not doing any brain-based research, only behavioral research.

David Boulton: Excellent, thank you. Well, I think itís really important to bring neuroscience research to bear on the role of affect in both powering and disempowering and turbulating cognitive tasks here at this level.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Yes, Iím sure that youíre right. Definitely right. Itís complicated to measure it. When you want to study reading you put symbols on the screen. The affect is a bit complicated.

David Boulton: Yes, but I think there are people out there that are doing work that can show different dimensions of affect like facial display signatures, so that itís possible to co-relate, to take facial display information, other biometrics and superimpose them over data thatís being gathered through systems like youíre using to show the correlated effect.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Yes, it is a good idea.

David Boulton: Is there anything else that you think would be important to our conversation here before we close.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Not that I can think about right now, but maybe later when I read the transcript.

David Boulton: Okay. And please, anytime if you encounter something or come up with something that you think would be of benefit please send me an email Ė Iíd like to get right back on the phone with you. And, if you come to America Iíd love to meet with you and shoot a video interview.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Good, if I come to America I will let you know and you have an open invitation to come to Haifa.

David Boulton: Thank you, a great pleasure to talk with you.

Dr. Zvia Breznitz: Same here.

Special thanks to M.C. Moran for her contribution towards the transcription of this interview.

Share this:          

The Children of the Code is a Social Education Project and a Public Television Series intended to catalyze and resource a social-educational transformation in how we think about and, ultimately, teach reading. The Children of the Code is an entertaining educational journey into the challenges our children's brains face when learning to read. The series weaves together archeology, history, linguistics, developmental neuroscience, cognitive science, psychology, information theory, reading theory, learning theory, and the personal and social dimensions of illiteracy. 

Let's Stop Reading Shame!

Millions of kids grow up ashamed of their minds because they blame themselves for not being good enough at reading. It's a crime they feel this way and we want your help to stop it. We are raising money to give our DVD sets to the teachers and literacy volunteers that need it the most but can afford it the least. Help us raise funds that will spread the word about and help stop reading shame!  Donate now!



Note about interviews: Participation in the preceding Children of the Code interview does not constitute or imply an endorsement of the Children of the Code project or documentary by the interviewee. Conversely, including an interview does not constitute or imply an endorsement of the views, organizations, books or products of the interviewee, other than as explicitly stated, by the Children of the Code Project and documentary.  

There is no substitute for your first-person learning.

Click to go to the index of Children of the Code video sequences

Dr. Grover (Russ) Whitehurst  Director, Institute of Education Sciences, Assistant Secretary of Education, U.S. Department of Education
Dr. Jack Shonkoff Chair, The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child; Co-Editor: From Neurons to Neighborhoods
Siegfried Engelmann Professor of Instructional Research, University of Oregon; Creator of Direct Instruction  
Dr. Edward Kame'enui Commissioner for Special Education Research, U.S. Department of Education; Director, IDEA, University  of Oregon
Dr. G. Reid Lyon  Past Director, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Dr. Keith Stanovich  Canadian Chair of Cognitive Science, University of Toronto
Dr. Mel Levine Co-Chair and Co-Founder, All Kinds of Minds; Author: A Mind at a Time, The Myth of Laziness & Ready or Not Here Life Comes
Dr. Alex Granzin  School District Psychologist, Past President, Oregon School Psychologists Association 
Dr. James J. Heckman Nobel Laureate, Economic Sciences 2000; Lead Author: The Productivity Argument for Investing in Young Children
Dr. Timothy Shanahan President (2006) International Reading Association, Chair National Early Literacy Panel, Member National Reading Panel
Nancy Hennessy  President, 2003-2005, International Dyslexia Association
Dr. Marilyn Jager Adams Senior ScientistSoliloquy Learning, Author: Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print
Dr. Michael Merzenich Chair of Otolaryngology, Integrative Neurosciences, UCSF;  Member National Academy of Sciences
Dr. Maryanne Wolf Director, Center for Reading & Language Research; Professor of Child Development, Tufts University
Dr. Todd Risley  Emeritus Professor of Psychology, University of Alaska, Co-author: Meaningful Differences
Dr. Sally Shaywitz  Neuroscientist, Department of Pediatrics, Yale University, Author: Overcoming Dyslexia
Dr. Louisa Moats  Director, Professional Development and Research Initiatives, Sopris West Educational Services
Dr. Zvia Breznitz Professor, Neuropsychology of Reading & Dyslexia, University of Haifa, Israel 
Rick Lavoie Learning Disabilities Specialist, Creator: How Difficult Can This Be?: The F.A.T. City Workshop & Last One Picked, First One Picked On
Dr.Charles Perfetti Professor, Psychology & Linguistics; Senior Scientist and Associate Director, Learning R&D Center, U. of Pittsburgh, PA
Arthur J. Rolnick Senior V.P. & Dir. of Research,  Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis;  Co- Author: The Economics of Early Childhood Development  
Dr. Richard Venezky  Professor, Educational Studies, Computer and  Information Sciences, and Linguistics, University of Delaware
Dr. Keith Rayner  Distinguished  Professor, University of Massachusetts, Author: Eye Movements in Reading and Information Processing
Dr. Paula Tallal  Professor of Neuroscience, Co-Director of the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Rutgers University
Dr.John Searle  Mills Professor of the Philosophy of Mind and Language, University of California-Berkeley, Author: Mind, A Brief Introduction
Dr.Mark T. Greenberg Director, Prevention Research Center, Penn State Dept. of Human Development & Family Studies; CASEL Leadership Team
Dr. Terrence Deacon  Professor of Biological Anthropology and Linguistics at University of California- Berkeley
Chris Doherty  Ex-Program Director, National Reading First Program, U.S. Department of Education
Dr. Erik Hanushek Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University

Dr. Marketa Caravolas Director, Bangor Dyslexia Unit, Bangor University, Author: International Report on Literacy Research
Dr. Christof Koch Professor of Computation and Neural Systems,  Caltech - Author: The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach
Dr. Guy Deutscher Professor of Languages and Cultures of Ancient Mesopotamia, Holland; Author: Unfolding Language
Robert Wedgeworth  President, ProLiteracy, World's Largest Literacy Organization
Dr. Peter Leone  Director, National Center on Education, Disability and Juvenile Justice
Dr. Thomas Cable  Professor of English, University of Texas at Austin, Co-author: A History of the English Language
Dr. David Abram Cultural Ecologist and Philosopher; Author: The Spell of the Sensuous
Pat Lindamood and Nanci Bell  Principal Scientists, Founders, Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes
Dr. Anne Cunningham  Director, Joint Doctoral Program in Special Education, Graduate School of Education at University of California-Berkeley
Dr. Donald L. Nathanson  Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Jefferson Medical College, Director of the Silvan S. Tomkins Institute 
Dr.Johanna Drucker  Chair of Media Studies, University of Virginia, Author: The Alphabetic Labyrinth
John H. Fisher  Medievalist, Leading authority on the development of the written English language, Author: The Emergence of Standard English
Dr. Malcolm Richardson   Chair, Dept. of English, Louisiana State University; Research: The Textual Awakening of the English Middle Classes  
James Wendorf  Executive Director, National Center for Learning Disabilities
Leonard Shlain Physician; Best-Selling Author: The Alphabet vs. The Goddess
Robert Sweet  Co-Founder, National Right to Read Foundation


HELP US: If you appreciate this interview and the work of the Children of the Code project please take a few minutes to share your thoughts with us. Your comments and feedback not only help us learn to better serve you, they help us get the support we need to continue the project.  Click here to read what others are saying about the Children of the Code Project.

SIGN UP HERE to receive general updates about our project or news of future interview releases 



Copyright statement:  Copyright (c) 2014, Learning Stewards, A 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Organization, All Rights Reserved. Permission to use, copy, and distribute these materials for not-for-profit educational purposes, without fee and without a signed licensing agreement, is hereby granted, provided that "Children of the Code - www.childrenofthecode.org"  (with a functioning hyperlink when online) be cited as the source and appear in all excerpts, copies, and distributions.  Thank you. (back to top)