The neural basis of visual word form processing: a multivariate investigation

Cereb Cortex. 2013 Jul;23(7):1673-84. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhs158. Epub 2012 Jun 12.


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

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Reading*
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Young Adult