Near-instant automatic access to visually presented words in the human neocortex: Neuromagnetic evidence
Rapid and efficient processing of external information by the brain is vital to survival in a highly dynamic environment. The key channel humans use to exchange information is language, but the neural underpinnings of its processing are still not fully understood. We investigated the spatio-temporal dynamics of neural access to word representations in the brain by scrutinising the brain’s activity elicited in response to psycholinguistically, visually and phonologically matched groups of familiar words and meaningless pseudowords. Stimuli were briefly presented on the visual-field periphery to experimental participants whose attention was occupied with a non-linguistic visual feature-detection task. The neural activation elicited by these unattended orthographic stimuli was recorded using multi-channel whole-head magnetoencephalography, and the timecourse of lexically-specific neuromagnetic responses was assessed in sensor space as well as at the level of cortical sources, estimated using individual MR-based distributed source reconstruction. Our results demonstrate a neocortical signature of automatic near-instant access to word representations in the brain: activity in the perisylvian language network characterised by specific activation enhancement for familiar words, starting as early as ~70 ms after the onset of unattended word stimuli and underpinned by temporal and inferior-frontal cortices.