New research has shed light on the “cognitive strengths” of people with dyslexia, with academics saying these specialist qualities have helped the human race adapt to changing environments.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge say people with dyslexia have a “explorative bias” which should be better understood and nurtured by society.

Lead author of the study, Dr Helen Taylor, said: “The deficit-centred view of dyslexia isn’t telling the whole story. This research proposes a new framework to help us better understand the cognitive strengths of people with dyslexia.

“We believe that the areas of difficulty experienced by people with dyslexia result from a cognitive trade-off between exploration of new information and exploitation of existing knowledge, with the upside being an explorative bias that could explain enhanced abilities observed in certain realms like discovery, invention and creativity.”

Dy Taylor said that society needs to rethink its approach to dyslexia, starting with how it is considered a neurological disorder.

She added: “Schools, academic institutes and workplaces are not designed to make the most of explorative learning. But we urgently need to start nurturing this way of thinking to allow humanity to continue to adapt and solve key challenges.”

Up to 20% of the general population are classed as being dyslexic, which is described by the World Federation of Neurology as “a disorder in children who, despite conventional classroom experience, fail to attain the language skills of reading, writing and spelling commensurate with their intellectual abilities.”

One theory is that our ancestors evolved with different ways of thinking, which complemented one another and helped populations to adapt and survive. These specialisms are based around the balance between exploring new resources and making use of existing resources.

Dr Taylor said: “Considering this trade-off, an explorative specialisation in people with dyslexia could help explain why they have difficulties with tasks related to exploitation, such as reading and writing.

“It could also explain why people with dyslexia appear to gravitate towards certain professions that require exploration-related abilities, such as arts, architecture, engineering, and entrepreneurship.”

The study has been published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

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