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The visual word form area engages in processing Braille in expert visual readers

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Poster B124 in Poster Session B, Tuesday, October 24, 3:30 - 5:15 pm CEST, Espace Vieux-Port

Filippo Cerpelloni1,2, Alice Van Audenhaege2, Ceren Battal2, Remi Gau2, Federica Falagiarda2, Hans Op de Beeck1, Olivier Collignon2,3,4; 1Department of Brain and Cognition, Leuven Brain Institute, KU Leuven, 2Institute of Psychology (IPSY) and Institute of Neuroscience (IoNS), UCLouvain, 3Center for Mind/Brain Sciences (CIMeC), University of Trento, Italy, 4The Sense Innovation and Research Center, School of Health Sciences, HES-SO Valais-Wallis, Lausanne and Sion, Switzerland

In the ventral occipito-temporal cortex (vOTC) reside numerous areas specialized to identify different categories of stimuli. Among them, the visual word form area (VWFA) and its preferential response to written words have been subject of a great corpus of studies, given its link to expertise and language acquisition. What drives this selectivity for orthographic material remains debated. One prominent account suggests that VWFA’s preference builds on the intrinsic selectivity for low-level features shared among most orthographic systems, like specific line junctions (e.g. T, L, Y). Alternatively, the VWFA could be sensitive to any alphabetic material, irrespective of these specific low-level features. We present evidence showing that VWFA in processing visual Braille in expert readers, a script developed for touch that does not share some low-level characteristic of classical alphabets like line junctions. In a first functional localizer experiment, we presented different intact and scrambled stimuli. We show that, in expert visual Braille readers only, the region of vOTC showing preferential activity for roman-based French word over scrambled stimuli, also showed preferential response to Braille words over scrambled Braille stimuli. To unfold the representation of different linguistic components in individually localized VWFA, in a second experiment, we presented to the participants stimuli with four decreasing levels of linguistic properties: real words, pseudo-words, non-words, and a fake-script condition, for both Braille and roman-based alphabets. Multivariate analyses on patterns of activity from VWFA revealed that the differences between words and word-like stimuli show a dissimilarity pattern within Braille stimuli that resembles the one within roman-based French. These results indicate that typical visual features of scripts are not mandatory characteristics in the activation of VWFA for linguistic material. Rather, linguistic information itself, invariant across scripts, seems to play an important role in determining the response of VWFA.

Topic Areas: Reading, Language Development/Acquisition

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