01.12.2023 New Publication: Both mOTS-words and pOTS-words prefer emoji stimuli over text stimuli during a reading task

We are happy to announce the publication of a new preprint called "Both mOTS-words and pOTS-words prefer emoji stimuli over text stimuli during a reading task" by our PhD student Alexia Dalski.

The visual word form area in the occipitotemporal sulcus (OTS), here referred to as OTS-words, responds more strongly to text than other visual stimuli and plays a critical role in reading. Here we hypothesized, that this region’s preference for text may be driven by a preference for reading tasks, as in most prior fMRI studies only the text stimuli were readable. To test this, we performed three fMRI experiments (N=15) and systematically varied the participant’s task and the visual stimulus, investigating mOTS-words and pOTS-words subregions. In experiment 1, we contrasted text stimuli with non-readable visual stimuli (faces, limbs, houses, and objects). In experiment 2, we used an fMRI adaptation paradigm, presenting the same or different compound words in text or emoji formats. In experiment 3, participants performed either a reading or a color task on compound words, presented in text or emoji format. Using experiment 1 data, we identified left mOTS-words and pOTS-words in all participants by contrasting text stimuli with non-readable stimuli. In experiment 2, pOTS-words, but not mOTS-words, showed fMRI adaptation for compound words in both text and emoji formats. In experiment 3, surprisingly, both mOTS-words and pOTS-words showed higher responses to compound words in emoji than text format. Moreover, mOTS-words, but not pOTS-words, also showed higher responses during the reading than the color task as well as an interaction between task and stimulus. Multivariate analyses showed that distributed responses in pOTS-words encode the visual stimulus, whereas distributed responses in mOTS-words encode both the stimulus and the task. Together, our findings suggest that the function of the OTS-words subregions goes beyond the specific visual processing of text and that these regions are flexibly recruited whenever semantic meaning needs to be assigned to visual input.