When two displays are presented in close temporal succession at the same location, how does the brain assign them to one versus two conscious percepts? We investigate this issue using a novel reading paradigm in which the odd and even letters of a string are presented alternatively at a variable rate. The results reveal a window of temporal integration during reading, with a nonlinear boundary around ∼80 msec of presentation duration. Below this limit, the oscillating stimulus is easily fused into a single percept, with all characteristics of normal reading. Above this limit, reading times are severely slowed and suffer from a word-length effect. ERPs indicate that, even at the fastest frequency, the oscillating stimulus elicits synchronous oscillations in posterior visual cortices, while late ERP components sensitive to lexical status vanish beyond the fusion threshold. Thus, the fusion/segregation dilemma is not resolved by retinal or subcortical filtering, but at cortical level by at most 300 msec. The results argue against theories of visual word recognition and letter binding that rely on temporal synchrony or other fine temporal codes.

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