The myth of the visual word form area

Neuroimage. 2003 Jul;19(3):473-81. doi: 10.1016/s1053-8119(03)00084-3.


Recent functional imaging studies have referred to a posterior region of the left midfusiform gyrus as the "visual word form area" (VWFA). We review the evidence for this claim and argue that neither the neuropsychological nor neuroimaging data are consistent with a cortical region specialized for visual word form representations. Specifically, there are no reported cases of pure alexia who have deficits limited to visual word form processing and damage limited to the left midfusiform. In addition, we present functional imaging data to demonstrate that the so-called VWFA is activated by normal subjects during tasks that do not engage visual word form processing such as naming colors, naming pictures, reading Braille, repeating auditory words, and making manual action responses to pictures of meaningless objects. If the midfusiform region has a single function that underlies all these tasks, then it does not correspond to visual word form processing. On the other hand, if the region participates in several functions as defined by its interactions with other cortical areas, then identifying the neural system sustaining visual word form representations requires identification of the set of regions involved. We conclude that there is no evidence that visual word form representations are subtended by a single patch of neuronal cortex and it is misleading to label the left midfusiform region as the visual word form area.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cognition / physiology
  • Form Perception / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Reading*
  • Visual Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology