Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Studies of semantic dementia, imaging, and repetitive TMS have suggested that the bilateral anterior temporal lobes (ATLs) underpin a modality-invariant representational hub within the semantic system. Questions remain, however, regarding functional specialization across a variety of knowledge domains within the ATL region. We investigated direct evidence for the functional relevance of the superior ATL in processing social concepts. Using converging evidence from noninvasive brain stimulation and neuropsychology, we demonstrate graded differentiation of right and left superior anterior temporal areas in social cognition. Whereas the left superior ATL is necessary for processing both social and nonsocial abstract concepts, social conceptual processing predominates in the right superior ATL. This graded hemispheric specialization is mirrored in the patient results. Our data shed new light on the classic debate about hemispheric differences in semantic and social cognition. These results are considered in the context of models of semantic representation and the emerging data on connectivity for left and right ATL regions.