An fMRI study of visual hemifield integration and cerebral lateralization
The human brain integrates hemifield-split visual information via interhemispheric transfer. The degree to which neural circuits involved in this process behave differently during word recognition as compared to object recognition is not known. Evidence from neuroimaging (fMRI) suggests that interhemispheric transfer during word viewing converges in the left hemisphere, in two distinct brain areas, an “occipital word form area” (OWFA) and a more anterior occipitotemporal “visual word form area” (VWFA). We used a novel fMRI half-field repetition technique to test whether or not these areas also integrate nonverbal hemifield-split string stimuli of similar visual complexity. We found that the fMRI responses of both the OWFA and VWFA while viewing nonverbal stimuli were strikingly different than those measured during word viewing, especially with respect to half-stimulus changes restricted to a single hemifield. We conclude that normal reading relies on left-lateralized neural mechanisms, which integrate hemifield-split visual information for words but not for nonverbal stimuli.