Pre-orthographic character string processing and parietal cortex: a role for visual attention in reading?

Neuropsychologia

PubMedID: 22659111

Lobier M, Peyrin C, Le Bas JF, Valdois S. Pre-orthographic character string processing and parietal cortex: a role for visual attention in reading?. Neuropsychologia. 2012;50(9):2195-204.
The visual front-end of reading is most often associated with orthographic processing. The left ventral occipito-temporal cortex seems to be preferentially tuned for letter string and word processing. In contrast, little is known of the mechanisms responsible for pre-orthographic processing: the processing of character strings regardless of character type. While the superior parietal lobule has been shown to be involved in multiple letter processing, further data is necessary to extend these results to non-letter characters. The purpose of this study is to identify the neural correlates of pre-orthographic character string processing independently of character type. Fourteen skilled adult readers carried out multiple and single element visual categorization tasks with alphanumeric (AN) and non-alphanumeric (nAN) characters under fMRI. The role of parietal cortex in multiple element processing was further probed with a priori defined anatomical regions of interest (ROIs). Participants activated posterior parietal cortex more strongly for multiple than single element processing. ROI analyses showed that bilateral SPL/BA7 was more strongly activated for multiple than single element processing, regardless of character type. In contrast, no multiple element specific activity was found in inferior parietal lobules. These results suggests that parietal mechanisms are involved in pre-orthographic character string processing. We argue that in general, attentional mechanisms are involved in visual word recognition, as an early step of word visual analysis.