It has been proposed that people can generate probabilistic predictions at multiple levels of representation during language comprehension. We used magnetoencephalography (MEG) and electroencephalography (EEG), in combination with representational similarity analysis, to seek neural evidence for the prediction of animacy features. In two studies, MEG and EEG activity was measured as human participants (both sexes) read three-sentence scenarios. Verbs in the final sentences constrained for either animate or inanimate semantic features of upcoming nouns, and the broader discourse context constrained for either a specific noun or for multiple nouns belonging to the same animacy category. We quantified the similarity between spatial patterns of brain activity following the verbs until just before the presentation of the nouns. The MEG and EEG datasets revealed converging evidence that the similarity between spatial patterns of neural activity following animate-constraining verbs was greater than following inanimate-constraining verbs. This effect could not be explained by lexical-semantic processing of the verbs themselves. We therefore suggest that it reflected the inherent difference in the semantic similarity structure of the predicted animate and inanimate nouns. Moreover, the effect was present regardless of whether a specific word could be predicted, providing strong evidence for the prediction of coarse-grained semantic features that goes beyond the prediction of individual words.
It has been hypothesized that schizophrenia is characterized by overly broad automatic activity within lexico-semantic networks. We used two complementary neuroimaging techniques, Magnetoencephalography (MEG) and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), in combination with a highly automatic indirect semantic priming paradigm, to spatiotemporally localize this abnormality in the brain. Eighteen people with schizophrenia and 20 demographically-matched control participants viewed target words (“bell”) preceded by directly related (“church”), indirectly related (“priest”), or unrelated (“pants”) prime words in MEG and fMRI sessions. To minimize top-down processing, the prime was masked, the target appeared only 140ms after prime onset, and participants simply monitored for words within a particular semantic category that appeared in filler trials. Both techniques revealed a significantly larger automatic indirect priming effect in people with schizophrenia than in control participants. MEG temporally localized this enhanced effect to the N400 time window (300-500ms) — the critical stage of accessing meaning from words. fMRI spatially localized the effect to the left temporal fusiform cortex, which plays a role in mapping of orthographic word-form on to meaning. There was no evidence of an enhanced automatic direct semantic priming effect in the schizophrenia group. These findings provide converging neural evidence for abnormally broad highly automatic lexico-semantic activity in schizophrenia. We argue that, rather than arising from an unconstrained spread of automatic activation across semantic memory, this broader automatic lexico-semantic activity stems from looser connections between the form and meaning of words.
We used Magnetoencephalography (MEG) in combination with Representational Similarity Analysis to probe neural activity associated with distinct, item-specific lexico-semantic predictions during language comprehension. MEG activity was measured as participants read highly constraining sentences in which the final words could be predicted. Before the onset of the predicted words, both the spatial and temporal patterns of brain activity were more similar when the same words were predicted than when different words were predicted. The temporal patterns localized to the left inferior and medial temporal lobe. These findings provide evidence that unique spatial and temporal patterns of neural activity are associated with item-specific lexico-semantic predictions. We suggest that the unique spatial patterns reflected the prediction of spatially distributed semantic features associated with the predicted word, and that the left inferior/medial temporal lobe played a role in temporally “binding” these features, giving rise to unique lexico-semantic predictions.
Although there is broad agreement that top-down expectations can facilitate lexical-semantic processing, the mechanisms driving these effects are still unclear. In particular, while previous electroencephalography (EEG) research has demonstrated a reduction in the N400 response to words in a supportive context, it is often challenging to dissociate facilitation due to bottom-up spreading activation from facilitation due to top-down expectations. The goal of the current study was to specifically determine the cortical areas associated with facilitation due to top-down prediction, using magnetoencephalography (MEG) recordings supplemented by EEG and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in a semantic priming paradigm. In order to modulate expectation processes while holding context constant, we manipulated the proportion of related pairs across 2 blocks (10 and 50% related). Event-related potential results demonstrated a larger N400 reduction when a related word was predicted, and MEG source localization of activity in this time-window (350-450 ms) localized the differential responses to left anterior temporal cortex. fMRI data from the same participants support the MEG localization, showing contextual facilitation in left anterior superior temporal gyrus for the high expectation block only. Together, these results provide strong evidence that facilitatory effects of lexical-semantic prediction on the electrophysiological response 350-450 ms postonset reflect modulation of activity in left anterior temporal cortex.
A core property of human semantic processing is the rapid, facilitatory influence of prior input on extracting the meaning of what comes next, even under conditions of minimal awareness. Previous work has shown a number of neurophysiological indices of this facilitation, but the mapping between time course and localization-critical for separating automatic semantic facilitation from other mechanisms-has thus far been unclear. In the current study, we used a multimodal imaging approach to isolate early, bottom-up effects of context on semantic memory, acquiring a combination of electroencephalography (EEG), magnetoencephalography (MEG), and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) measurements in the same individuals with a masked semantic priming paradigm. Across techniques, the results provide a strikingly convergent picture of early automatic semantic facilitation. Event-related potentials demonstrated early sensitivity to semantic association between 300 and 500 ms; MEG localized the differential neural response within this time window to the left anterior temporal cortex, and fMRI localized the effect more precisely to the left anterior superior temporal gyrus, a region previously implicated in semantic associative processing. However, fMRI diverged from early EEG/MEG measures in revealing semantic enhancement effects within frontal and parietal regions, perhaps reflecting downstream attempts to consciously access the semantic features of the masked prime. Together, these results provide strong evidence that automatic associative semantic facilitation is realized as reduced activity within the left anterior superior temporal cortex between 300 and 500 ms after a word is presented, and emphasize the importance of multimodal neuroimaging approaches in distinguishing the contributions of multiple regions to semantic processing.
The aim of this study was to gain further insights into how the brain distinguishes between meaning and syntax during language comprehension. Participants read and made plausibility judgments on sentences that were plausible, morphosyntactically anomalous, or pragmatically anomalous. In an event-related potential (ERP) experiment, morphosyntactic and pragmatic violations elicited significant P600 and N400 effects, respectively, replicating previous ERP studies that have established qualitative differences in processing conceptually and syntactic anomalies. Our main focus was a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study in which the same subjects read the same sentences presented in the same pseudorandomized sequence while performing the same task as in the ERP experiment. Rapid-presentation event-related fMRI methods allowed us to estimate the hemodynamic response at successive temporal windows as the sentences unfolded word by word, without assumptions about the shape of the underlying response function. Relative to nonviolated sentences, the pragmatic anomalies were associated with an increased hemodynamic response in left temporal and inferior frontal regions and a decreased response in the right medial parietal cortex. Relative to nonviolated sentences, the morphosyntactic anomalies were associated with an increased response in bilateral medial and lateral parietal regions and a decreased response in left temporal and inferior frontal regions. Thus, overlapping neural networks were modulated in opposite directions to the two types of anomaly. These fMRI findings document both qualitative and quantitative differences in how the brain distinguishes between these two types of anomalies. This suggests that morphosyntactic and pragmatic information can be processed in different ways but by the same neural systems.