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The Yin and the Yang of Prediction: An fMRI Study of Semantic Predictive Processing

Weber, K., Lau, E., Stillerman, B., & Kuperberg, G. (2016). The Yin and the Yang of Prediction: An fMRI Study of Semantic Predictive Processing. PLoS One, 11(3): 0148637. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0148637.
Probabilistic prediction plays a crucial role in language comprehension. When predictions are fulfilled, the resulting facilitation allows for fast, efficient processing of ambiguous, rapidly-unfolding input; when predictions are not fulfilled, the resulting error signal allows us to adapt to broader statistical changes in this input. We used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging to examine the neuroanatomical networks engaged in semantic predictive processing and adaptation. We used a relatedness proportion semantic priming paradigm, in which we manipulated the probability of predictions while holding local semantic context constant. Under conditions of higher (versus lower) predictive validity, we replicate previous observations of reduced activity to semantically predictable words in the left anterior superior/middle temporal cortex, reflecting facilitated processing of targets that are consistent with prior semantic predictions. In addition, under conditions of higher (versus lower) predictive validity we observed significant differences in the effects of semantic relatedness within the left inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior portion of the left superior/middle temporal gyrus. We suggest that together these two regions mediated the suppression of unfulfilled semantic predictions and lexico-semantic processing of unrelated targets that were inconsistent with these predictions. Moreover, under conditions of higher (versus lower) predictive validity, a functional connectivity analysis showed that the left inferior frontal and left posterior superior/middle temporal gyrus were more tightly interconnected with one another, as well as with the left anterior cingulate cortex. The left anterior cingulate cortex was, in turn, more tightly connected to superior lateral frontal cortices and subcortical regions—a network that mediates rapid learning and adaptation and that may have played a role in switching to a more predictive mode of processing in response to the statistical structure of the wider environmental context. Together, these findings highlight close links between the networks mediating semantic prediction, executive function and learning, giving new insights into how our brains are able to flexibly adapt to our environment.

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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

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