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.
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.