Abstract

Reading relies on the rapid visual recognition of words viewed in a wide variety of fonts. We used fMRI to identify neural populations showing reduced fMRI responses to repeated words displayed in different fonts (“font-invariant” repetition suppression). We also identified neural populations showing greater fMRI responses to words repeated in a changing font as compared with words repeated in the same font (“font-sensitive” release from repetition suppression). We observed font-invariant repetition suppression in two anatomically distinct regions of the left occipitotemporal cortex (OT), a “visual word form area” in mid-fusiform cortex, and a more posterior region in the middle occipital gyrus. In contrast, bilateral shape-selective lateral occipital cortex and posterior fusiform showed considerable sensitivity to font changes during the viewing of repeated words. Although the visual word form area and the left middle occipital gyrus showed some evidence of font sensitivity, both regions showed a relatively greater degree of font invariance than font sensitivity. Our results show that the neural mechanisms in the left OT involved in font-invariant word recognition are anatomically distinct from those sensitive to font-related shape changes. We conclude that font-invariant representation of visual word form is instantiated at multiple levels by anatomically distinct neural mechanisms within the left OT.

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