We describe a novel method for tracking the time course of visual identification processes, here applied to the specific case of letter perception. We combine a new behavioral measure of letter identification times with single-letter ERP recordings. Letter identification processes are considered to take place in those time windows in which the behavioral measure and ERPs are correlated. A first significant correlation was found at occipital electrode sites around 100 msec poststimulus onset that most likely reflects the contribution of low-level feature processing to letter identification. It was followed by a significant correlation at fronto-central sites around 170 msec, which we take to reflect letter-specific identification processes, including retrieval of a phonological code corresponding to the letter name. Finally, significant correlations were obtained around 220 msec at occipital electrode sites that may well be due to the kind of recurrent processing that has been revealed recently by TMS studies. Overall, these results suggest that visual identification processes are likely to be composed of a first (and probably preconscious) burst of visual information processing followed by a second reentrant processing on visual areas that could be critical for the conscious identification of the visual target.

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