Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Priming effects have been well documented in behavioral psycholinguistics experiments: The processing of a word or a sentence is typically facilitated when it shares lexico-semantic or syntactic features with a previously encountered stimulus. Here, we used fMRI priming to investigate which brain areas show adaptation to the repetition of a sentence's content or syntax. Participants read or listened to sentences organized in series which could or not share similar syntactic constructions and/or lexico-semantic content. The repetition of lexico-semantic content yielded adaptation in most of the temporal and frontal sentence processing network, both in the visual and the auditory modalities, even when the same lexico-semantic content was expressed using variable syntactic constructions. No fMRI adaptation effect was observed when the same syntactic construction was repeated. Yet behavioral priming was observed at both syntactic and semantic levels in a separate experiment where participants detected sentence endings. We discuss a number of possible explanations for the absence of syntactic priming in the fMRI experiments, including the possibility that the conglomerate of syntactic properties defining “a construction” is not an actual object assembled during parsing.