Pausing for thought: Engagement of left temporal cortex during pauses in speech

Kircher, T. T. J., Brammer, M. J., Levelt, W. J. M., Bartels, M., & McGuire, P. K. (2004). Pausing for thought: Engagement of left temporal cortex during pauses in speech. NeuroImage, 21(1), 84-90. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2003.09.041.
Pauses during continuous speech, particularly those that occur within clauses, are thought to reflect the planning of forthcoming verbal output. We used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to examine their neural correlates. Six volunteers were scanned while describing seven Rorschach inkblots, producing 3 min of speech per inkblot. In an event-related design, the level of blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) contrast during brief speech pauses (mean duration 1.3 s, SD 0.3 s) during overt speech was contrasted with that during intervening periods of articulation. We then examined activity associated with pauses that occurred within clauses and pauses that occurred between grammatical junctions. Relative to articulation during speech, pauses were associated with activation in the banks of the left superior temporal sulcus (BA 39/22), at the temporoparietal junction. Continuous speech was associated with greater activation bilaterally in the inferior frontal (BA 44/45), middle frontal (BA 8) and anterior cingulate (BA 24) gyri, the middle temporal sulcus (BA 21/22), the occipital cortex and the cerebellum. Left temporal activation was evident during pauses that occurred within clauses but not during pauses at grammatical junctions. In summary, articulation during continuous speech involved frontal, temporal and cerebellar areas, while pausing was associated with activity in the left temporal cortex, especially when this occurred within a clause. The latter finding is consistent with evidence that within-clause pauses are a correlate of speech planning and in particular lexical retrieval.
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