Most of us don’t think much about those “I, you, me, he, she, they and it” words we call pronouns. But new research suggests they may play a far greater role than simply replacing a proper name in a sentence?they help keep our brain from being overloaded. And when it comes to overloaded brains, there’s good news: a real breakthrough in the teaching of dyslexic kids.

In the Nov. 13 edition of the British newspaper the Independent, Richard Garner reports that hundreds of elementary school students in the UK who have dyslexia are being helped by a new way of teaching that will soon be used in schools throughout the country. While our politicians here in the US mouth slogans about “no child left behind,” will we see this new teaching method implemented here? Meanwhile, using MRI scans, psychologist Amit Almor wanted to find out why we use pronouns. He studied the brain activity of 21 adults, who were asked to read sequences of sentences to compare the brain’s response to pronouns versus proper names.

Almor says, “The brain lit up with activity when proper names were used, including areas that are not associated with language?[this was] absent when pronouns were used.”

Drawing from various parts of the brain, we respond to proper names by creating a representation of the person in our minds, and every time the name is repeated, our brain responds by creating a new representation of the person or thing named. This uses up a lot of brain power and exhaust our memory.

Pronouns don’t cause the same disruptions in the brain that proper names do. In fact, they allow the brain to move easily from one thought or sentence to another, so that we can more fully digest the meaning or intent of the thought being conveyed.

Almor says, “We are at the mercy of our memory system, which is limited. The more items or representations we hold, the more effort we need to spend so as not to lose information. Pronouns let us avoid that juggle in our brains.”

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