Differential sensitivity to words and shapes in ventral occipito-temporal cortex

Michal Ben-Shachar, Robert F. Dougherty, Gayle K. Deutsch, Brian A. Wandell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

102 Scopus citations


Efficient extraction of shape information is essential for proficient reading but the role of cortical mechanisms of shape analysis in word reading is not well understood. We studied cortical responses to written words while parametrically varying the amount of visual noise applied to the word stimuli. In only a few regions along the ventral surface, cortical responses increased with word visibility. We found consistently increasing responses in bilateral posterior occipito-temporal sulcus (pOTS), at an anatomical location that closely matches the "visual word form area". In other cortical regions, such as V1, responses remained constant regardless of the noise level. We performed 3 additional tests to assess the functional specialization of pOTS responses for written word processing. We asked whether pOTS responses are 1) left lateralized, 2) more sensitive to words than to line drawings or false fonts, and 3) invariant for visual hemifield of words but not other stimuli. We found that left and right pOTS response functions both had highest sensitivity for words, intermediate for line drawings, and lowest for false fonts. Visual hemifield invariance was similar for words and line drawings. These results suggest that left and right pOTS are both involved in shape processing, with enhanced efficiency for processing visual word forms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1604-1611
Number of pages8
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2007
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding provided by National Institutes of Health grant EY015000 and the Schwab Foundation for Learning. We thank Alex Wade, Alyssa Brewer, Arvel Hernandez, Junjie Liu, Kalanit Grill-Spector, Mark Eckert, Polina Potanina, Rachel Kalmar, Rory Sayres, Sing-Hang Cheung, and Serge Dumoulin for their help in various stages of the study. Conflict of Interest: None declared.


  • False fonts
  • Line drawings
  • Parametric fMRI
  • Phase scrambling
  • Word reading


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