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In Brain and cognition

Reading comprehension requires the semantic integration of words across space and time. However, it remains unclear whether comprehension requires visual awareness for such semantic integration. Compared to earlier studies that investigated semantic integration indirectly from its priming effect, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to directly examine the processes of semantic integration with or without visual awareness. Specifically, we manipulated participants' visual awareness by continuous flash suppression (CFS) while they viewed a meaningful sequence of four Chinese words (i.e., an idiom) or its meaningless counterpart (i.e., a random sequence). Behaviorally, participants had better recognition memory for idioms than random sequences only when their visual awareness was interfered rather than blocked by CFS. Neurally, semantics-processing areas, such as the superior temporal gyrus and inferior frontal gyrus, were significantly activated only when participants were aware of word sequences, be they meaningful or meaningless. By contrast, orthography-processing areas, such as the fusiform gyrus and inferior occipital gyrus, were significantly activated regardless of visual awareness or word sequence. Taken together, these results suggest that visual awareness modules the functioning of the semantic neural network in the brain and facilitates reading comprehension.

Yang Yung-Hao, Huang Tsung-Ren, Yeh Su-Ling


Continuous flash suppression, Semantic neural network, Temporal integration, Unconscious integration, fMRI