A critical review of PET studies of phonological processing

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The use of positron emission tomography to identify sensory and motor systems in humans in vivo has been very successful. In contrast, studies of cognitive processes have not always generated results that can be reliably interpreted. A meta-analysis of five positron emission tomography studies designed to engage phonological processing (Petersen, Fox, Pusher, Mintun, and Raichle, 1989; Zatorre, Evans, Meyer, and Gjedde 1992; Sergent, Zuck, Levesque, and MacDonald, 1992; Demonet, Chollet, Ramsay, Cardebar, Nespoulous, Wise, and Frackowiak, 1992; and Paulesu, Frith, and Frakowiak, 1993) reveals that the results do not converge as expected: Very similar experiments designed to isolate the same language processes show activation in nonoverlapping cortical areas. Although these PET confirm the importance of left perisylvian cortex, the experiments implicate distinct, nonoverlapping perisylvian areas. Because of the divergence of results, it is premature to attribute certain language processes or the elementary computations underlying the construction of the relevant linguistic representations to specific cerebral regions on the basis of positron emission tomographic results. It is argued that this sparse-overlap result is due (1) to insufficiently detailed task decomposition and task-control matching, (2) to insufficient contact with cognitive psychology, psycholinguistics, and linguistic theory, and (3) to some inherent problems in using subtractive PET methodology to study the neural representation and processing of language.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)317-351
Number of pages35
JournalBrain and Language
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Speech and Hearing


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