This functional magnetic resonance imaging study compared the neuronal implementation of word and pseudoword processing during two commonly used word recognition tasks: lexical decision and reading aloud. In the lexical decision task, participants made a finger-press response to indicate whether a visually presented letter string is a word or a pseudoword (e.g., “paple”). In the reading-aloud task, participants read aloud visually presented words and pseudowords. The same sets of words and pseudowords were used for both tasks. This enabled us to look for the effects of task (lexical decision vs. reading aloud), lexicality (words vs. nonwords), and the interaction of lexicality with task. We found very similar patterns of activation for lexical decision and reading aloud in areas associated with word recognition and lexical retrieval (e.g., left fusiform gyrus, posterior temporal cortex, pars opercularis, and bilateral insulae), but task differences were observed bilaterally in sensorimotor areas. Lexical decision increased activation in areas associated with decision making and finger tapping (bilateral postcentral gyri, supplementary motor area, and right cerebellum), whereas reading aloud increased activation in areas associated with articulation and hearing the sound of the spoken response (bilateral precentral gyri, superior temporal gyri, and posterior cerebellum). The effect of lexicality (pseudoword vs. words) was also remarkably consistent across tasks. Nevertheless, increased activation for pseudowords relative to words was greater in the left precentral cortex for reading than lexical decision, and greater in the right inferior frontal cortex for lexical decision than reading. We attribute these effects to differences in the demands on speech production and decision-making processes, respectively.

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