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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

February 2022, Vol. 34, No. 2, Pages 236-257
(doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_01793)
© 2021 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Neural Basis of Semantic Prediction in Sentence Comprehension
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Although prediction plays an important role in language comprehension, its precise neural basis remains unclear. This fMRI study investigated whether and how semantic-category-specific and common cerebral areas are recruited in predictive semantic processing during sentence comprehension. We manipulated the semantic constraint of sentence contexts, upon which a tool-related, a building-related, or no specific category of noun is highly predictable. This noun-predictability effect was measured not only over the target nouns but also over their preceding transitive verbs. Both before and after the appearance of target nouns, left anterior supramarginal gyrus was specifically activated for tool-related nouns and left parahippocampal place area was activated specifically for building-related nouns. The semantic-category common areas included a subset of left inferior frontal gyrus during the anticipation of incoming target nouns (activity enhancement for high predictability) and included a wide spread of areas (bilateral inferior frontal gyrus, left superior/middle temporal gyrus, left medial pFC, and left TPJ) during the integration of actually perceived nouns (activity reduction for high predictability). These results indicated that the human brain recruits fine divisions of cortical areas to distinguish different semantic categories of predicted words, and anticipatory semantic processing relies, at least partially, on top–down prediction conducted in higher-level cortical areas.