Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Identification of visually presented words is facilitated by implicit memory, or visual priming, for past visual experiences with those words. There is disagreement over the neuroanatomical substrates of this form of implicit memory. Several studies have suggested that this form of priming relies on a visual word-form system localized in the right occipital lobe, whereas other studies have indicated that both hemispheres are equally involved. The discrepancies may be related to the types of priming tasks that have been used because the former studies have relied primarily on word-stem completion tasks and the latter on tasks like word-fragment completion. The present experiments compared word-fragment and word-stem measurements of visual implicit memory in patients with right occipital lobe lesions and patients with complete callosotomies. The patients showed normal visual implicit memory on fragment completion tests, but essentially no visual priming on standard stem completion tests. However, when we used a set of word stems that had only one correct solution for each test item, as was true of the items in the fragment completion tests, the patients showed normal priming effects. The results indicate that visual implicit memory for words is not solely dependent upon the right hemisphere, rather it reflects changes in processing efficiency in bilateral visual regions involved in the initial processing of the items. However, under conditions of high lexical competition (i.e., multiple completion word stems), the lexical processes, which are dominant in the left hemisphere, overshadow the visual priming supported by the left hemisphere.