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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

December 2009, Vol. 21, No. 12, Pages 2358-2368
(doi: 10.1162/jocn.2008.21163)
© 2008 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
When Elephants Fly: Differential Sensitivity of Right and Left Inferior Frontal Gyri to Discourse and World Knowledge
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Both local discourse and world knowledge are known to influence sentence processing. We investigated how these two sources of information conspire in language comprehension. Two types of critical sentences, correct and world knowledge anomalies, were preceded by either a neutral or a local context. The latter made the world knowledge anomalies more acceptable or plausible. We predicted that the effect of world knowledge anomalies would be weaker for the local context. World knowledge effects have previously been observed in the left inferior frontal region (Brodmann's area 45/47). In the current study, an effect of world knowledge was present in this region in the neutral context. We also observed an effect in the right inferior frontal gyrus, which was more sensitive to the discourse manipulation than the left inferior frontal gyrus. In addition, the left angular gyrus reacted strongly to the degree of discourse coherence between the context and critical sentence. Overall, both world knowledge and the discourse context affect the process of meaning unification, but do so by recruiting partly different sets of brain areas.