Visual presentation of words activates extrastriate regions of the occipital lobes of the brain. When analyzed by positron emission tomography (PET), certain areas in the left, medial extrastriate visual cortex were activated by visually presented pseudowords that obey English spelling rules, as well as by actual words. These areas were not activated by nonsense strings of letters or letter-like forms. Thus visual word form computations are based on learned distinctions between words and nonwords. In addition, during passive presentation of words, but not pseudowords, activation occurred in a left frontal area that is related to semantic processing. These findings support distinctions made in cognitive psychology and computational modeling between high-level visual and semantic computations on single words and describe the anatomy that may underlie these distinctions.
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