Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Language comprehension in everyday life requires the continuous integration of prior discourse context and general world knowledge with the current utterance or sentence. In the neurolinguistic literature, these so-called situation model building processes have been ascribed to the prefrontal cortex or to the right hemisphere. In this study, we use whole-head event-related fMRI to directly map the neural correlates of narrative comprehension in context. While being scanned using a spin-echo sequence, 20 participants listened to 32 short stories, half of which contained globally inconsistent information. The inconsistencies concerned either temporal or chronological information or the emotional status of the protagonist. Hearing an inconsistent word elicited activation in the right anterior temporal lobe. The comparison of different information aspects revealed activation in the left precuneus and a bilateral frontoparietal network for chronological information. Emotional information elicited activation in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the extended amygdaloid complex. In addition, the integration of inconsistent emotional information engaged the dorsal frontomedial cortex (Brodmann's area 8/9), whereas the integration of inconsistent temporal information required the lateral prefrontal cortex bilaterally. These results indicate that listening to stories can elicit activation reflecting content-specific processes. Furthermore, updating of the situation model is not a unitary process but it also depends on the particular requirements of the text. The right hemisphere contributes to language processing in context, but equally important are the left medial and bilateral prefrontal cortices.