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Neuropsychologia. 2006;44(12):2209-21. Epub 2006 Jul 13.

An event-related fMRI investigation of phonological-lexical competition.

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  • 1Department of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, USA.


This study explored the neural correlates of phonological-lexical competition and frequency on word recognition. An event-related fMRI experiment was conducted using an auditory lexical decision task in which word and nonword stimuli varied in terms of neighborhood density (high and low). Word stimuli also varied in terms of frequency (high and low). Behavioral results were similar to those of Luce and Pisoni [Luce, P. A., & Pisoni, D. B. (1998). Recognizing spoken words: The neighborhood activation model. Ear and Hearing, 19, 1-36], with the reaction time data showing a main effect of word frequency and density as well as a significant interaction effect between these two factors. fMRI results revealed an overall greater neural response for high-density compared to low-density words in the left supramarginal gyrus, consistent with the view that there are greater demands on phonological processing under conditions of increased phonological-lexical competition. The comparison between high and low frequency words revealed greater activation for high frequency words in both anterior and posterior left middle temporal gyrus. A significant interaction between density and frequency was found in lateral and medial frontal structures. This frontal activation may reflect the greater computational resources required in integrating frequency and density information in order to access a word. Overall, these findings demonstrate the sensitivity of neural structures to different properties of the lexicon.

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