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Essential neural differences in the recognition between words and objects

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Poster B126 in Poster Session B, Tuesday, October 24, 3:30 - 5:15 pm CEST, Espace Vieux-Port
This poster is part of the Sandbox Series.

Jiahong Zeng1, Yudan Luo1, Xiangqi Luo1, Zaizhu Han1; 1Beijing Normal University

Visually recognizing objects in the environment is usually critical for the survival and reproduction of all animals. It enables an animal to respond adaptively to sources of food, conspecifics, and possible threats. About 4000 years ago, the human being evolved a new ability of milestone, visual word recognition. This new ability allows people to record and disseminate information across vast expanses of space and time, which has facilitated the gradual accumulation of scientific, technological, and historical knowledge, transcending generations and spanning continents. A relevant scientific issue is what are the neural differences between recognizing a word and an object. The new word system fine-tunes the pre-existing neural circuit of object recognition (neuronal recycling hypothesis), or develops a new neural circuit outside the pre-existing object recognition (cultural determination hypothesis). Previous studies have provided some elegant findings for this issue. However, these studies have not matched well in stimuli materials or task demands between words and objects. For instance, they used dissimilar-appearing words and objects or different tasks. To overcome these limitations, the present study developed a set of pictorial pictographs as stimuli. Each of the stimuli can be recognized as a Chinese character or an object by a Chinese literate person. Thus, the stimuli were rigorously matched in form, phonology, and semantics between the two types of recognition stimuli. Moreover, each type of stimuli was performed for four functional MRI tasks: the decision for realness, phonology, semantics, and color (baseline), which were used to investigate the modulation of task demands between the two recognition processes. We observed that significant differences of brain activity intensity between word and object recognition occurred in bilateral inferior parietal lobule (IPL) and bilateral anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Compared to object recognition, word recognition elicited stronger activation in bilateral IPL, and weaker negative activation in bilateral ACC. Interestingly, the differences in activity intensity for word-object processing were not consistently observed across all tasks in the four brain regions (the left IPL: realness and phonological tasks; the right IPL: realness task; the left ACC: all the three language tasks; and the right ACC: realness and semantic tasks). Functional connectivity analyses further revealed that the left IPL exhibited greater connectivity strength with the right inferior temporal cortex (involved in visual processing) in word recognition than object recognition, suggesting a potential role in form-to-sound transformation during word processing. The right ACC exhibited greater connectivity strength with visual cortices (e.g., bilateral ventral occipitotemporal cortex) and semantic areas (e.g., the left inferior and middle frontal gyri) in word recognition than object recognition. The effects were particularly obvious in realness and semantic tasks, which indicated the involvement of the right ACC in semantic control. These findings demonstrate that the neural circuit of word recognition builds upon the pre-existing neural circuit of object recognition, with adaptive adjustments in the IPL and ACC areas. This provides supporting evidence for the neuronal recycling hypothesis, and refines the neuroanatomical interrelationships between word and object recognition processes.

Topic Areas: Reading, Language Development/Acquisition

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