Origins of the specialization for letters and numbers in ventral occipitotemporal cortex

Trends Cogn Sci. 2015 Jul;19(7):374-82. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2015.05.006. Epub 2015 Jun 11.


Deep in the occipitotemporal cortex lie two functional regions, the visual word form area (VWFA) and the number form area (NFA), which are thought to play a special role in letter and number recognition, respectively. We review recent progress made in characterizing the origins of these symbol form areas in children or adults, sighted or blind subjects, and humans or monkeys. We propose two non-mutually-exclusive hypotheses on the origins of the VWFA and NFA: the presence of a connectivity bias, and a sensitivity to shape features. We assess the explanatory power of these hypotheses, describe their consequences, and offer several experimental tests.

Keywords: NFA; VWFA; cortical topology; invariance; metamodal areas; structural connectivity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Mapping
  • Concept Formation / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mathematics*
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Occipital Lobe / physiology*
  • Reading*
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*