Steady state visual evoked potentials in reading aloud: Effects of lexicality, frequency and orthographic familiarity


  • Montani Veronica
  • Chanoine Valérie C
  • Stoianov Ivilin
  • Grainger Jonathan
  • Ziegler Johannes


  • Neuroimaging
  • Frequency effect
  • Lexical effect
  • Visual word recognition

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The present study explored the possibility to use Steady-State Visual Evoked Potentials (SSVEPs) as a tool to investigate the core mechanisms in visual word recognition. In particular, we investigated three benchmark effects of reading aloud: lexicality (words vs. pseudowords), frequency (high-frequency vs. low-frequency words), and orthographic familiarity ('familiar' versus 'unfamiliar' pseudowords). We found that words and pseudowords elicited robust SSVEPs. Words showed larger SSVEPs than pseudowords and high-frequency words showed larger SSVEPs than low-frequency words. SSVEPs were not sensitive to orthographic familiarity. We further localized the neural generators of the SSVEP effects. The lexicality effect was located in areas associated with early level of visual processing, i.e. in the right occipital lobe and in the right precuneus. Pseudowords produced more activation than words in left sensorimotor areas, rolandic operculum, insula, supramarginal gyrus and in the right temporal gyrus. These areas are devoted to speech processing and/or spelling-to-sound conversion. The frequency effect involved the left temporal pole and orbitofrontal cortex, areas previously implicated in semantic processing and stimulus-response associations respectively, and the right postcentral and parietal inferior gyri, possibly indicating the involvement of the right attentional network.

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