Participants were recruited from two villages near the city of Lucknow in the Northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh as part of a study that was approved by the ethics committee of the Centre of Biomedical Research, Lucknow. After giving informed consent, 91 healthy right-handed human volunteers without a known history of psychiatric disease or neurological condition took part in the study (see “Demographic and behavioral data” section for more details). Twenty-nine completely illiterate participants (mean age, 31; range from 23 to 39; two males; average monthly income, 1776 rupies) from the same societal community in two villages in a rural area near Lucknow, India were recruited to take part in a 6-month literacy training program in which they learned some basic reading and writing of Devanagari script. None of them had ever undergone any formal schooling. Some of the participants had some literate family members, but others had no literate family members (average number of literate family members, 2.3). An illiterate no-training control group (n = 24; mean age, 29; range from 19 to 40; 8 males; average number of literate family members, 2.64; average monthly income, 2250 rupies) and literate no-training control group (n = 38; mean age, 26; range from 18 to 40; 25 males; average number of literate family members, 2; average monthly income, 2276 rupies) were matched to the training group in terms of socioeconomic background and were recruited from the same societal community in the two villages. There were no significant differences between the groups in terms of age, numbers of literate family members, or income. Although participants were recruited and assigned to groups, note that most of the analyses presented in this paper do not rely upon this grouping, focusing instead upon regressions with literacy as a continuous factor.

As a consequence of cultural factors at the study site, there was an imbalance in the sex of the participants as a function of literacy status, with illiterate participants being more likely to be female. The potential consequences of this are not readily predictable. There is little evidence for sex differences in the neurophysiology of normal reading, although sex differences in the cerebral organization of language have been reported [e.g., in phonological tasks during reading (30)], and a recent review (31) concluded that the neural basis of developmental dyslexia may be different in male and female children. Nevertheless, existing findings do not suggest that the VWFA is systematically differently localized in female samples compared to male samples. We therefore do not believe that this limitation would account for the effects that we observed.

All of the participants were right-handed and examined by a medical doctor. None of the participants had any known neurological impairments. Participants were interviewed about their educational background. A word reading test and a letter identification task were administered.

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