OPEN Frontiers in human neuroscience | 26 Dec 2012
V Pariyadath, MH Plitt, SJ Churchill and DM Eagleman
Several observations suggest that overlearned ordinal categories (e.g., letters, numbers, weekdays, months) are processed differently than non-ordinal categories in the brain. In synesthesia, for example, anomalous perceptual experiences are most often triggered by members of ordinal categories (Rich et al., 2005; Eagleman, 2009). In semantic dementia (SD), the processing of ordinal stimuli appears to be preserved relative to non-ordinal ones (Cappelletti et al., 2001). Moreover, ordinal stimuli often map onto unconscious spatial representations, as observed in the SNARC effect (Dehaene et al., 1993; Fias, 1996). At present, little is known about the neural representation of ordinal categories. Using functional neuroimaging, we show that words in ordinal categories are processed in a fronto-temporo-parietal network biased toward the right hemisphere. This differs from words in non-ordinal categories (such as names of furniture, animals, cars, and fruit), which show an expected bias toward the left hemisphere. Further, we find that increased predictability of stimulus order correlates with smaller regions of BOLD activation, a phenomenon we term prediction suppression. Our results provide new insights into the processing of ordinal stimuli, and suggest a new anatomical framework for understanding the patterns seen in synesthesia, unconscious spatial representation, and SD.
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