The unique role of the visual word form area in reading

Trends Cogn Sci. 2011 Jun;15(6):254-62. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2011.04.003. Epub 2011 May 16.


Reading systematically activates the left lateral occipitotemporal sulcus, at a site known as the visual word form area (VWFA). This site is reproducible across individuals/scripts, attuned to reading-specific processes, and partially selective for written strings relative to other categories such as line drawings. Lesions affecting the VWFA cause pure alexia, a selective deficit in word recognition. These findings must be reconciled with the fact that human genome evolution cannot have been influenced by such a recent and culturally variable activity as reading. Capitalizing on recent functional magnetic resonance imaging experiments, we provide strong corroborating evidence for the hypothesis that reading acquisition partially recycles a cortical territory evolved for object and face recognition, the prior properties of which influenced the form of writing systems.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Diagnostic Imaging
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Reading*
  • Visual Pathways
  • Vocabulary*