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Musical literacy shifts asymmetries in the ventral visual cortex

Bouhali, F., Mongelli, V., & Cohen, L. (2017). Musical literacy shifts asymmetries in the ventral visual cortex. NeuroImage, 156, 445-455. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2017.04.027.
The acquisition of literacy has a profound impact on the functional specialization and lateralization of the visual cortex. Due to the overall lateralization of the language network, specialization for printed words develops in the left occipitotemporal cortex, allegedly inducing a secondary shift of visual face processing to the right, in literate as compared to illiterate subjects. Applying the same logic to the acquisition of high-level musical literacy, we predicted that, in musicians as compared to non-musicians, occipitotemporal activations should show a leftward shift for music reading, and an additional rightward push for face perception. To test these predictions, professional musicians and non-musicians viewed pictures of musical notation, faces, words, tools and houses in the MRI, and laterality was assessed in the ventral stream combining ROI and voxel-based approaches. The results supported both predictions, and allowed to locate the leftward shift to the inferior temporal gyrus and the rightward shift to the fusiform cortex. Moreover, these laterality shifts generalized to categories other than music and faces. Finally, correlation measures across subjects did not support a causal link between the leftward and rightward shifts. Thus the acquisition of an additional perceptual expertise extensively modifies the laterality pattern in the visual system

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