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Context-dependent interpretation of words: Evidence for interactive neural processes

Gennari, S.P., MacDonald, M.C., Postle, B.P. and Seidenberg, M.S. (2007) Context-dependent interpretation of words: Evidence for interactive neural processes. Neuroimage, 35 (3). pp. 1278-1286. ISSN 1053-8119

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The meaning of a word usually depends on the context in which it occurs. This study investigated the neural mechanisms involved in computing word meanings that change as a function of syntactic context. Current semantic processing theories suggest that word meanings are retrieved from diverse cortical regions storing sensory–motor and other types of semantic information and are further integrated with context in left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG). Our fMRI data indicate that brain activity in an area sensitive to motion and action semantics – the posterior middle temporal gyrus (PMTG) – is modulated by a word’s syntactic context. Ambiguous words such as bowl were presented in minimal disambiguating contexts indicating object (the bowl) or action (to bowl) meanings and were compared to low-ambiguity controls. Ambiguous words elicited more activity than low-ambiguity controls in LIFG and various meaning-related areas such as PMTG. Critically, ambiguous words also elicited more activity in to-contexts than the-contexts in PMTG and LIFG, suggesting that contextual integration strengthened the action meaning in both areas. The pattern of results suggests that the activation of lexical information in PMTG was sensitive to contextual disambiguating information and that processing context-dependent meanings may involve interactions between frontal and posterior areas.

Item Type: Article
Institution: The University of York
Academic Units: The University of York > Psychology (York)
Depositing User: York RAE Import
Date Deposited: 19 Mar 2009 15:18
Last Modified: 19 Mar 2009 15:18
Published Version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2007.01.015
Status: Published
Publisher: Elsevier
Refereed: Yes
Identification Number: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2007.01.015
URI: http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/7083

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