Formation of neocortical memory circuits for unattended written word forms: neuromagnetic evidence

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To master linguistic communication, humans must acquire large vocabularies quickly and effortlessly. Efficient word learning might be facilitated by the ability to rapidly acquire novel word forms even outside the focus of attention, occurring within minutes of repetitive exposure and suggesting fast and
automatic lexicon acquisition. However, this phenomenon has been studied in the auditory modality only, and it is unknown whether similar mechanisms also exist in the visual domain. We tested this by presenting participants with novel written word forms while the focus of their attention was on a non-linguistic dual colour-detection task. Matched familiar word forms served as a control. Using magnetoencephalography (MEG), we scrutinised changes in neuromagnetic responses to familiar and to novel word forms over approximately 15 minutes of exposure. We found, for the first time, a visual analogue of automatic rapid build-up of neural memory circuits for unattended novel lexical items, seen as a rapid enhancement of early (~100 ms post-onset) activation in the left anterior-superior temporal lobe. Our results suggest that the brain quickly forms cortical representations for new written forms, and indicate that the automatic neural mechanisms subserving rapid online acquisition of novel linguistic information might be shared by both auditory and visual modalities.
Original languageEnglish
JournalScientific Reports
ISSN2045-2322
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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