A TMS examination of semantic radical combinability effects in Chinese character recognition

Janet Hui wen Hsiao, Richard Shillcock, Michal Lavidor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


The proposal of human foveal splitting assumes a vertical meridian split in the foveal representation and the consequent contralateral projection of information in the two hemifields to the two hemispheres and has been shown to have important implications for visual word recognition. According to this assumption, in Chinese character recognition, the two halves of a centrally fixated character may be initially projected to and processed in different hemispheres. Here, we describe a repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) investigation of hemispheric processing in Chinese character recognition, through examining semantic radical combinability effects in a character semantic judgment task. The materials used were a dominant type of Chinese character which consists of a semantic radical on the left and a phonetic radical on the right. Thus, according to the split fovea assumption, the semantic and phonetic radicals are initially projected to and processed in the right hemisphere and the left hemisphere, respectively. We show that rTMS over the left occipital cortex impaired the facilitation of semantic radicals with large combinability, whereas right occipital rTMS did not. This interaction between stimulation site and radical combinability reveals a flexible division of labor between the hemispheres in Chinese character recognition, with each hemisphere responding optimally to the information in the contralateral visual hemifield to which it has direct access. The results are also consistent with the split fovea claim, suggesting functional foveal splitting as a universal processing constraint in reading.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-167
Number of pages9
JournalBrain Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 17 Mar 2006
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to funding and support from the BBSRC, the European Commission, the Royal Society, and the ESRC. We also acknowledge the insightful comments of two anonymous referees; all remaining errors are our own.

Funding Information:
The second author was supported by ESRC fellowship R/000/27/1244.


  • Chinese character recognition
  • Foveal splitting
  • Orthographic neighborhood effect
  • Semantic radical combinability effect
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation


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