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Automatic semantic influence on early visual word recognition in the ventral occipito-temporal cortex


Wang JJin , Deng YYuan , Booth JRJames R . Neuropsychologia. 2019 09 06; 133(). 107188


The left ventral occipitotemporal cortex (vOT) is a critical region in reading. According to the interactive account of reading, the vOT is an interface between the lower-level visual regions and higher-level language areas. One prediction of the interactive account is that orthographic activation in vOT should be automatically influenced by semantics and phonology. In the current study, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and a masked priming paradigm with a relatively short duration (150 ms) to examine whether language information automatically influences vOT during Chinese reading. Participants were asked to perform a lexical decision task on target characters. We separately tested the phonological and semantic influence on orthographic processing in vOT. Brain activation analyses showed that the activation of vOT was modulated by semantic information. In addition, a functional connectivity analysis showed stronger connectivity between vOT and the left ventral inferior frontal gyrus was modulated by semantic information. These findings provided converging evidence for the existence of an automatic semantic influence on vOT during reading, supporting the interactive account. Our study did not show a phonological effect either in the activation of or connectivity with vOT. Taken together, these results reflect the unique processes of Chinese reading, which relies more on the mapping between orthography and semantics, as compared to the orthographic to phonology mapping.