Selective Inhibition of Mirror Invariance for Letters Consolidated by Sleep Doubles Reading Fluency


  • Torres Ana
  • Mota Natália
  • Adamy Nery
  • Naschold Angela
  • Lima Thiago
  • Copelli Mauro
  • Weissheimer Janaina
  • Pegado Felipe
  • Ribeiro Sidarta


  • Sleep consolidation
  • Mirror invariance
  • Multisensory
  • Reading fluency
  • First graders
  • Learning
  • Dyslexia
  • Pasteur's quadrant
  • Cognitive plasticity

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Mirror invariance is a visual mechanism that enables a prompt recognition of mirror images. This visual capacity emerges early in human development, is useful to recognize objects, faces, and places from both left and right perspectives, and is also present in primates, pigeons, and cephalopods. Notwithstanding, the same visual mechanism has been suspected to be the source of a specific difficulty for a relatively recent human invention—reading—by creating confusion between mirror letters (e.g., b-d in the Latin alphabet). Using an ecologically valid school-based design, we show here that mirror invariance represents indeed a major leash for reading fluency acquisition in first graders. Our causal approach, which specifically targeted mirror invariance inhibition for letters, in a synergic combination with post-training sleep to increase learning consolidation, revealed unprecedented improvement in reading fluency, which became two-times faster. This gain was obtained with as little as 7.5 h of multisensory-motor training to distinguish mirror letters, such as “b” versus “d.” The magnitude, automaticity, and duration of this mirror discrimination learning were greatly enhanced by sleep, which keeps the gains perfectly intact even after 4 months. The results were consistently replicated in three randomized controlled trials. They not only reveal an extreme case of cognitive plasticity in humans (i.e., the inhibition in just 3 weeks of a ∼25-million-year-old visual mechanism), that allows adaptation to a cultural activity (reading), but at the same time also show a simple and cost-effective way to unleash the reading fluency potential of millions of children worldwide.

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