Demonstrating the implicit processing of visually presented words and pseudowords

Cereb Cortex. 1996 Jan-Feb;6(1):62-70. doi: 10.1093/cercor/6.1.62.


This study demonstrates that even when subjects are instructed to perform a nonlinguistic visual feature detection task, the mere presence of words or pseudowords in the visual field activates a widespread neuronal network that is congruent with classical language areas. The implication of this result is that subjects will process words beyond the functional demands of the task. Therefore, contrasting brain activity in a word task that explicitly requires a cognitive function with a word task in which the function is activated implicitly will not necessarily isolate the brain area of interest. Furthermore, in most brain regions, we found that pseudowords, which have unfamiliar phonological associations and no associated semantic association, produce greater activation than words. Greater brain activity associated with pseudowords illustrates that unfamiliar stimuli that are unable to access word associations may activate the neuronal network more strongly than familiar words for which access occurs with ease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed
  • Visual Pathways / physiology*