What do Cyrillic, Arabic, Sanskrit, and 113 other writing systems have in common? Different as they appear at first glance, they share basic structural features, according to a new study: characters with vertical symmetry (like the Roman letters A and T) and a preference for vertical and horizontal lines over oblique lines (like those in the letters X and W). The explanation appears to be rooted in the wiring of our brain.
“People appear to have an aesthetic preference for certain kinds of shapes and designs, and that preference seems to explain the writing systems we see,” says Julie Fiez, a psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania who was not involved in the study. Fiez, who studies the neuroscience of reading, says those features may tap into how our eyes and brains process images: Neurons fire faster at the site of objects that display vertical symmetry—like human faces—and horizontal and vertical lines, which are common in natural landscapes.
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