Spatiotemporal dynamics of orthographic and lexical processing in the ventral visual pathway

Oscar Woolnough, Cristian Donos, Patrick S. Rollo, Kiefer J. Forseth, Yair Lakretz, Nathan E. Crone, Simon Fischer-Baum, Stanislas Dehaene, Nitin Tandon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Reading is a rapid, distributed process that engages multiple components of the ventral visual stream. To understand the neural constituents and their interactions that allow us to identify written words, we performed direct intra-cranial recordings in a large cohort of humans. This allowed us to isolate the spatiotemporal dynamics of visual word recognition across the entire left ventral occipitotemporal cortex. We found that mid-fusiform cortex is the first brain region sensitive to lexicality, preceding the traditional visual word form area. The magnitude and duration of its activation are driven by the statistics of natural language. Information regarding lexicality and word frequency propagates posteriorly from this region to visual word form regions and to earlier visual cortex, which, while active earlier, show sensitivity to words later. Further, direct electrical stimulation of this region results in reading arrest, further illustrating its crucial role in reading. This unique sensitivity of mid-fusiform cortex to sub-lexical and lexical characteristics points to its central role as the orthographic lexicon—the long-term memory representations of visual word forms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)389-398
Number of pages10
JournalNature Human Behaviour
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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