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Cogn Neuropsychol. 2009 Feb;26(1):91-110. doi: 10.1080/02643290802425914.

The role of sensorimotor learning in the perception of letter-like forms: tracking the causes of neural specialization for letters.

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  • 1Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA.


Functional specialization in the brain is considered a hallmark of efficient processing. It is therefore not surprising that there are brain areas specialized for processing letters. To better understand the causes of functional specialization for letters, we explore the emergence of this pattern of response in the ventral processing stream through a training paradigm. Previously, we hypothesized that the specialized response pattern seen during letter perception may be due in part to our experience in writing letters. The work presented here investigates whether or not this aspect of letter processing-the integration of sensorimotor systems through writing-leads to functional specialization in the visual system. To test this idea, we investigated whether or not different types of experiences with letter-like stimuli ("pseudoletters") led to functional specialization similar to that which exists for letters. Neural activation patterns were measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) before and after three different types of training sessions. Participants were trained to recognize pseudoletters by writing, typing, or purely visual practice. Results suggested that only after writing practice did neural activation patterns to pseudoletters resemble patterns seen for letters. That is, neural activation in the left fusiform and dorsal precentral gyrus was greater when participants viewed pseudoletters than other, similar stimuli but only after writing experience. Neural activation also increased after typing practice in the right fusiform and left precentral gyrus, suggesting that in some areas, any motor experience may change visual processing. The results of this experiment suggest an intimate interaction among perceptual and motor systems during pseudoletter perception that may be extended to everyday letter perception.

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