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Keywords:

  • optical imaging;
  • phonological processing;
  • phonological neighbors;
  • lexical decision;
  • hemodynamic measure;
  • blood oxygenation;
  • NIRS;
  • visual word recognition

Abstract

Phonological density refers to the number of words that can be generated by replacing a phoneme in a target word with another phoneme in the same position. Although the precise nature of the phonological neighborhood density effect is not firmly established, many behavioral psycholinguistic studies have shown that visual recognition of individual words is influenced by the number and type of neighbors the words have. This study explored neurobehavioral correlates of phonological neighborhood density in skilled readers of English using near infrared spectroscopy. On the basis of a lexical decision task, our findings showed that words with many phonological neighbors (e.g., FRUIT) were recognized more slowly than words with few phonological neighbors (e.g., PROOF), and that words with many neighbors elicited significantly greater changes in blood oxygenation in the left than in the right hemisphere of the brain, specifically in the areas BA 22/39/40. In previous studies these brain areas have been implicated in fine-grained phonological processing in readers of English. The present findings provide the first demonstration that areas BA 22/39/40 are also sensitive to phonological density effects. Hum Brain Mapp, 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.