Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 228–234 | Cite as

The cost of blocking the mirror generalization process in reading: evidence for the role of inhibitory control in discriminating letters with lateral mirror-image counterparts

  • Grégoire Borst
  • Emmanuel Ahr
  • Margot Roell
  • Olivier Houdé
Brief Report


Mirror generalization is detrimental for identifying letters with lateral mirror-image counterparts (‘b/d’). In the present study, we investigated whether the discrimination of this type of letters in expert readers might be rooted in the ability to inhibit the mirror-generalization process. In our negative priming paradigm, participants judged whether two letters were identical on the prime and two animals (or buildings) were identical on the probe. In Experiment 1, participants required more time when determining that two animals (but not two buildings) were mirror images of each other when preceded by letters with mirror-image counterparts than without mirror-image counterparts (‘a/h’). In Experiment 2, we replicated the results with different letters without mirror-image counterparts and with the type of probe stimuli (animal or building) manipulated as a within-subject factors. Our results suggest that expert readers never completely “unlearn” the mirror-generalization process and still need to inhibit this heuristic to overcome mirror errors.


Inhibitory control Reading Mirror generalization Neural recycling 


  1. Baylis, G. C., & Driver, J. (2001). Shape-coding in IT cells generalizes over contrast and mirror reversal, but not figure-ground reversal. Nature Neuroscience, 4, 937–942.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bolger, D. J., Perfetti, C. A., & Schneider, W. (2005). Cross-cultural effect on the brain revisited: Universal structures plus writing system variation. Human Brain Mapping, 25, 92–104.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bornstein, M., Gross, C., & Wolf, J. (1978). Perceptual similarity of mirror images in infancy. Cognition, 6, 89–116.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Borst, G., Moutier, S., & Houdé, O. (2013). Negative priming in logicomathematical reasoning: The cost of blocking your intuition. In W. De Neys & M. Osman (Eds.), New approaches in reasoning research—Current issues in thinking & reasoning (pp. 54–71). New York: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  5. Dehaene, S. (2013). Inside the Letterbox: How Literacy Transforms the Human Brain. Cerebrum, (June), 1–16.Google Scholar
  6. Dehaene, S., & Cohen, L. (2007). Cultural recycling of cortical maps. Neuron, 56, 384–398.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dehaene, S., Nakamura, K., Jobert, A., Kuroki, C., Ogawa, S., & Cohen, L. (2010). Why do children make mirror errors in reading? Neural correlates of mirror invariance in the visual word form area. NeuroImage, 49, 1837–1848.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Diamond, A., Barnett, W. S., Thomas, J., & Munro, S. (2007). Preschool program improves cognitive control. Science, 318, 1387–1388.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Diamond, A., & Kirkham, N. (2005). Not quite as grown-up as we like to think parallels between cognition in childhood and adulthood. Psychological Science, 16, 291–297.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dilks, D. D., Julian, J. B., Kubilius, J., Spelke, E. S., & Kanwisher, N. (2011). Mirror-image sensitivity and invariance in object and scene processing pathways. The Journal of Neuroscience, 31, 11305–11312.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Duñabeitia, J. A., Dimitropoulou, M., Estévez, A., & Carreiras, M. (2013). The influence of reading expertise in mirror-letter perception: Evidence from beginning and expert readers. Mind, Brain, and Education, 7, 124–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hasson, U., Harel, M., Levy, I., & Malach, R. (2003). Large-scale mirror-symmetry organization of human occipito-temporal object areas. Neuron, 37, 1027–1041.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kolinsky, R., Verhaeghe, A., Fernandes, T., Mengarda, E. J., Grimm-Cabral, L., & Morais, J. (2011). Enantiomorphy through the looking glass: Literacy effects on mirror-image discrimination. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 140, 210–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Lachmann, T. (2002). Reading disability as a deficit in functional coordination. In Basic functions of language, reading and reading disability (pp. 165–198). Springer US.Google Scholar
  15. Lachmann, T., & van Leeuwen, C. (2007). Paradoxical enhancement of letter recognition in developmental dyslexia. Developmental Neuropsychology, 31, 61–77.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Larsson, A., & Smith, T. A. (2012). fMRI repetition suppression: Neuronal adaptation or stimulus expectation? Cerebral Cortex, 22, 567–576.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Neill, W. T., Valdes, L. A., & Terry, K. M. (1995). Selective attention and inhibitory control of cognition. In F. N. Dempster & C. J. Brainerd (Eds.), Interference and inhibition in cognition (pp. 207–261). New York, NY: Academic Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Orton, S. T. (1925). “Word-blindness” in school children. Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, 14, 581.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Pegado, F., Nakamura, K., Cohen, L., & Dehaene, S. (2011). Breaking the symmetry: Mirror discrimination for single letters but not for pictures in the visual word form area. NeuroImage, 55, 742–749.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Perea, M., Moret-Tatay, C., & Pandero, V. (2011). Suppression of mirror generalization for reversible letters: Evidence from masked priming. Journal of Memory and Language, 65, 237–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Rollenhagen, J. E., & Olson, C. R. (2000). Mirror-image confusion in single neurons of the macaque inferotemporal cortex. Science, 287, 1506–1508.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Schott, G. D. (2007). Mirror writing: Neurological reflections on an unusual phenomenon. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, 78, 5–13.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Tipper, S. P. (1985). The negative priming effect: Inhibitory priming by ignored objects. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 37A, 571–590.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Grégoire Borst
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 7
  • Emmanuel Ahr
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • Margot Roell
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 5
  • Olivier Houdé
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 6
  1. 1.LaPsyDÉ, CNRS Unit 8240ParisFrance
  2. 2.Institut de PsychologieUniversity Paris DescartesParisFrance
  3. 3.University of Caen Basse-NormandieCaenFrance
  4. 4.Normal Superior SchoolLyonFrance
  5. 5.Department of PsychologyBath UniversityBathUK
  6. 6.Institut Universitaire de FranceParisFrance
  7. 7.LaPsyDÉ, CNRS Unit 8240University Paris DescartesParisFrance

Personalised recommendations