Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
Learning to read specializes a portion of the left mid-fusiform cortex for printed word recognition, the putative visual word form area (VWFA). This study examined whether a VWFA specialized for English is sufficiently malleable to support learning a perceptually atypical second writing system. The study utilized an artificial orthography, HouseFont, in which house images represent English phonemes. House images elicit category-biased activation in a spatially distinct brain region, the so-called parahippocampal place area (PPA). Using house images as letters made it possible to test whether the capacity for learning a second writing system involves neural territory that supports reading in the first writing system, or neural territory tuned for the visual features of the new orthography. Twelve human adults completed two weeks of training to establish basic HouseFont reading proficiency and underwent functional neuroimaging pre and post-training. Analysis of three functionally defined regions of interest (ROIs), the VWFA, and left and right PPA, found significant pre-training versus post-training increases in response to HouseFont words only in the VWFA. Analysis of the relationship between the behavioral and neural data found that activation changes from pre-training to post-training within the VWFA predicted HouseFont reading speed. These results demonstrate that learning a new orthography utilizes neural territory previously specialized by the acquisition of a native writing system. Further, they suggest VWFA engagement is driven by orthographic functionality and not the visual characteristics of graphemes, which informs the broader debate about the nature of category-specialized areas in visual association cortex.
Digital Commons Citation
Martin, Lea; Durisko, Corrine; Moore, Michelle W.; Coutanche, Marc N.; Chen, Deborah; and Fiez, Julie A., "The VWFA Is the Home of Orthographic Learning When Houses Are Used as Letters" (2019). Faculty & Staff Scholarship. 2447.
Martin, L., Durisko, C., Moore, M. W., Coutanche, M. N., Chen, D., & Fiez, J. A. (2019). The VWFA Is the Home of Orthographic Learning When Houses Are Used as Letters. Eneuro, 6(1), ENEURO.0425-17.2019. https://doi.org/10.1523/eneuro.0425-17.2019