Representational similarity analysis reveals task-dependent semantic influence of the visual word form area

Sci Rep. 2018 Feb 14;8(1):3047. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-21062-0.


Access to semantic information of visual word forms is a key component of reading comprehension. In this study, we examined the involvement of the visual word form area (VWFA) in this process by investigating whether and how the activity patterns of the VWFA are influenced by semantic information during semantic tasks. We asked participants to perform two semantic tasks - taxonomic or thematic categorization - on visual words while obtaining the blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) fMRI responses to each word. Representational similarity analysis with four types of semantic relations (taxonomic, thematic, subjective semantic rating and word2vec) revealed that neural activity patterns of the VWFA were associated with taxonomic information only in the taxonomic task, with thematic information only in the thematic task and with the composite semantic information measured by word2vec in both semantic tasks. Furthermore, the semantic information in the VWFA cannot be explained by confounding factors including orthographic, low-level visual and phonological information. These findings provide positive evidence for the presence of both orthographic and task-relevant semantic information in the VWFA and have significant implications for the neurobiological basis of reading.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Linguistics / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Occipital Lobe / physiology
  • Reading*
  • Semantics
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult