Priming vs. rhyming: Orthographic and phonological representations in the left and right hemispheres Academic Article uri icon


  • The right cerebral hemisphere has long been argued to lack phonological processing capacity. Recently, however, a sex difference in the cortical representation of phonology has been proposed, suggesting discrete left hemisphere lateralization in males and more distributed, bilateral representation of function in females. To evaluate this hypothesis and shed light on sex differences in the phonological processing capabilities of the left and right hemispheres, we conducted two experiments. Experiment 1 assessed phonological activation implicitly (masked homophone priming), testing 52 (M=25, F=27; mean age 19.23years, SD 1.64years) strongly right-handed participants. Experiment 2 subsequently assessed the explicit recruitment of phonology (rhyme judgement), testing 50 (M=25, F=25; mean age 19.67years, SD 2.05years) strongly right-handed participants. In both experiments the orthographic overlap between stimulus pairs was strictly controlled using DICE [Brew, C., & McKelvie, D. (1996). Word-pair extraction for lexicography. In K. Oflazer & H. Somers (Eds.), Proceedings of the second international conference on new methods in language processing (pp. 45-55). Ankara: VCH], such that pairs shared (a) high orthographic and phonological similarity (e.g., not-KNOT); (b) high orthographic and low phonological similarity (e.g., pint-HINT); (c) low orthographic and high phonological similarity (e.g., use-EWES); or (d) low orthographic and low phonological similarity (e.g., kind-DONE). As anticipated, high orthographic similarity facilitated both left and right hemisphere performance, whereas the left hemisphere showed greater facility when phonological similarity was high. This difference in hemispheric processing of phonological representations was especially pronounced in males, whereas female performance was far less sensitive to visual field of presentation across both implicit and explicit phonological tasks. As such, the findings offer behavioural evidence indicating that though both hemispheres are capable of orthographic analysis, phonological processing is discretely lateralised to the left hemisphere in males, but available in both the left and right hemisphere in females.

publication date

  • November 2008