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Neuroimage. 2011 Apr 1;55(3):1242-51. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.01.001. Epub 2011 Jan 11.

Top-down modulation of ventral occipito-temporal responses during visual word recognition.

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Cognitive, Perceptual & Brain Sciences, University College London, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT, UK.


Although interactivity is considered a fundamental principle of cognitive (and computational) models of reading, it has received far less attention in neural models of reading that instead focus on serial stages of feed-forward processing from visual input to orthographic processing to accessing the corresponding phonological and semantic information. In particular, the left ventral occipito-temporal (vOT) cortex is proposed to be the first stage where visual word recognition occurs prior to accessing nonvisual information such as semantics and phonology. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate whether there is evidence that activation in vOT is influenced top-down by the interaction of visual and nonvisual properties of the stimuli during visual word recognition tasks. Participants performed two different types of lexical decision tasks that focused on either visual or nonvisual properties of the word or word-like stimuli. The design allowed us to investigate how vOT activation during visual word recognition was influenced by a task change to the same stimuli and by a stimulus change during the same task. We found both stimulus- and task-driven modulation of vOT activation that can only be explained by top-down processing of nonvisual aspects of the task and stimuli. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that vOT acts as an interface linking visual form with nonvisual processing in both bottom up and top down directions. Such interactive processing at the neural level is in agreement with cognitive and computational models of reading but challenges some of the assumptions made by current neuro-anatomical models of reading.

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