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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

November 2007, Vol. 19, No. 11, Pages 1905-1921
(doi: 10.1162/jocn.2007.19.11.1905)
© 2007 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
An MEG Study of Silent Meaning
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Although research on the neural bases of language has made significant progress on how the brain accesses the meanings of words, our understanding of sentence-level semantic composition remains limited. We studied the magnetoencephalography (MEG) responses elicited by expressions whose meanings involved an element not expressed in the syntax, which enabled us to investigate the brain correlates of semantic composition without confounds from syntactic composition. Sentences such as the author began the book, which asserts that an activity was begun although no activity is mentioned in the syntax, were contrasted with control sentences such as the author wrote the book, which involved no implicit meaning. These conditions were further compared with a semantically anomalous condition (the author disgusted the book). MEG responses to the object noun showed that silent meaning and anomaly are associated with distinct effects, silent meaning, but not anomaly, eliciting increased amplitudes in the anterior midline field (AMF) at 350–450 msec. The AMF was generated in ventromedial prefrontal areas, usually implicated for social cognition and theory of mind. Our results raise the possibility that silent meaning interpretation may share mechanisms with these neighboring domains of cognition.