Journal Article

The Neural Basis of Visual Word Form Processing: A Multivariate Investigation

Adrian Nestor, Marlene Behrmann and David C. Plaut

in Cerebral Cortex

Volume 23, issue 7, pages 1673-1684
Published in print July 2013 | ISSN: 1047-3211
Published online June 2012 | e-ISSN: 1460-2199 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bhs158
The Neural Basis of Visual Word Form Processing: A Multivariate Investigation

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Current research on the neurobiological bases of reading points to the privileged role of a ventral cortical network in visual word processing. However, the properties of this network and, in particular, its selectivity for orthographic stimuli such as words and pseudowords remain topics of significant debate. Here, we approached this issue from a novel perspective by applying pattern-based analyses to functional magnetic resonance imaging data. Specifically, we examined whether, where and how, orthographic stimuli elicit distinct patterns of activation in the human cortex. First, at the category level, multivariate mapping found extensive sensitivity throughout the ventral cortex for words relative to false-font strings. Secondly, at the identity level, the multi-voxel pattern classification provided direct evidence that different pseudowords are encoded by distinct neural patterns. Thirdly, a comparison of pseudoword and face identification revealed that both stimulus types exploit common neural resources within the ventral cortical network. These results provide novel evidence regarding the involvement of the left ventral cortex in orthographic stimulus processing and shed light on its selectivity and discriminability profile. In particular, our findings support the existence of sublexical orthographic representations within the left ventral cortex while arguing for the continuity of reading with other visual recognition skills.

Keywords: face recognition; FMRI; multivariate mapping; visual Word Form Area

Journal Article.  9809 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Neuroscience

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