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Word length modulates neural activity in auditory cortex during covert object naming

Okada, Kayoko; Smith, Kevin R.; Humphries, Colin; Hickok, GregoryCA


Several lines of evidence show that posterior portions of left auditory cortex participate in aspects of speech production. A current hypothesis is that these regions play a specific role in processing phonological codes. We used event-related fMRI to test this hypothesis. Subjects covertly named objects that had names varying in length from one to four syllables. Behavioral data, both in previous work and in the present study, show an increase in naming reaction time as words get longer, reflecting the increase in phonological load. If left posterior auditory areas participate in phonological aspects of production, word length should modulate neural activity in this region. Object naming activated the left planum temporale in each subject, confirming previous findings of auditory cortex involvement in speech production. The timecourse of activation in this region showed a length effect, consistent with its hypothesized role in phonological processing. Similar effects were also observed in premotor cortex, but not in occipital–temporal cortex, which presumably supports visual processing of the pictures to be named.

Department of Cognitive Sciences, University of California, Irvine, CA 92697, USA

CACorresponding Author:

Received 2 July 2003; accepted 11 July 2003

© 2003 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.