Can cognitive models explain brain activation during word and pseudoword reading? A meta-analysis of 36 neuroimaging studies

J.S.H. Taylor*, Kathleen Rastle, Matthew H. Davis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Reading in many alphabetic writing systems depends on both item-specific knowledge used to read irregular words (sew, yacht) and generative spelling-sound knowledge used to read pseudowords (tew, yash). Research into the neural basis of these abilities has been directed largely by cognitive accounts proposed by the dual-route cascaded and triangle models of reading. We develop a framework that enables predictions for neural activity to be derived from cognitive models of reading using 2 principles: (a) the extent to which a model component or brain region is engaged by a stimulus and (b) how much effort is exerted in processing that stimulus. To evaluate the derived predictions, we conducted a meta-analysis of 36 neuroimaging studies of reading using the quantitative activation likelihood estimation technique. Reliable clusters of activity are localized during word versus pseudoword and irregular versus regular word reading and demonstrate a great deal of convergence between the functional organization of the reading system put forward by cognitive models and the neural systems activated during reading tasks. Specifically, left-hemisphere activation clusters are revealed reflecting orthographic analysis (occipitotemporal cortex), lexical and/or semantic processing (anterior fusiform, middle temporal gyrus), spelling-sound conversion (inferior parietal cortex), and phonological output resolution (inferior frontal gyrus). Our framework and results establish that cognitive models of reading are relevant for interpreting neuroimaging studies and that neuroscientific studies can provide data relevant for advancing cognitive models. This article thus provides a firm empirical foundation from which to improve integration between cognitive and neural accounts of the reading process.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)766-791
Number of pages26
JournalPsychological Bulletin
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013


  • activation likelihood estimation
  • dual-route cascaded model
  • FMRI
  • PET
  • triangle model


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