Through study of clinical cases with brain lesions as well as neuroimaging studies of cognitive processing of words and pictures, it has been established that material-specific hemispheric specialization exists. It remains however unclear whether such specialization holds true for all processes involved in complex tasks, such as recognition memory. To investigate neural signatures of transition from perception to recognition, according to type of material (words or abstract pictures), high-resolution scalp ERPs were recorded in adult humans engaged either in categorization or in memory recognition tasks within the same experimental setup. Several steps in the process from perception to recognition were identified. Source localization showed that the early stage of perception processing (N170) takes place in the fusiform gyrus and is lateralized according to the nature of stimuli (left side for words and right side for pictures). Late stages of processing (N400/P600) corresponding to recognition are material independent and involve anterior medial-temporal and ventral prefrontal structures bilaterally. A crucial transitional process between perception (N170) and recognition (N400/P600) is reflected by the N270, an often overlooked component, which occurs in anterior rhinal cortices and shows material-specific hemispheric lateralization.

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