Localization of Syntactic and Semantic Brain Responses using Magnetoencephalography
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Electrophysiological methods have been used to study the temporal sequence of syntactic and semantic processing during sentence comprehension. Two responses associated with syntactic violations are the left anterior negativity (LAN) and the P600. A response to semantic violation is the N400. Although the sources of the N400 response have been identified in the left (and right) temporal lobe, the neural signatures of the LAN and P600 have not been revealed. The present study used magnetoencephalography to localize sources of syntactic and semantic activation in Finnish sentence reading. Participants were presented with sentences that ended in normally inf lected nouns, nouns in an unacceptable case, verbs instead of nouns, or nouns that were correctly inflected but made no sense in the context. Around 400 msec, semantically anomalous last words evoked strong activation in the left superior temporal lobe with significant activation also for word class errors (N400). Weaker activation was seen for the semantic errors in the right hemisphere. Later, 600-800 msec after word onset, the strongest activation was seen to word class and morphosyntactic errors (P600). Activation was significantly weaker to semantically anomalous and correct words. The P600 syntactic activation was localized to bilateral sources in the temporal lobe, posterior to the N400 sources. The results suggest that the same general region of the superior temporal cortex gives rise to both LAN and N400 with bilateral reactivity to semantic manipulation and a left hemisphere effect to syntactic manipulation. The bilateral P600 response was sensitive to syntactic but not semantic factors.
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