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Abstract or Description

The adult human brain would appear to have specialized and independent neural systems for the visual processing of words and faces. Extensive evidence has demonstrated greater selectivity for written words in the left over right hemisphere, and, conversely, greater selectivity for faces in the right over left hemisphere. This study examines the emergence of these complementary neural profiles, as well as the possible relationship between them. Using behavioral and neurophysiological measures, in adults, we observed the standard finding of greater accuracy and a larger N170 ERP component in the left over right hemisphere for words, and conversely, greater accuracy and a larger N170 in the right over the left hemisphere for faces. We also found that although children aged 7-12 years revealed the adult hemispheric pattern for words, they showed neither a behavioral nor a neural hemispheric superiority for faces. Of particular interest, the magnitude of their N170 for faces in the right hemisphere was related to that of the N170 for words in their left hemisphere. These findings suggest that the hemispheric organization of face recognition and of word recognition does not develop independently, and that word lateralization may precede and drive later face lateralization. A theoretical account for the findings, in which competition for visual representations unfolds over the course of development, is discussed.


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Published In

Neuropsychologia, 61, 315-323.