NLC Poster: The Neural Representation of Event Nouns

Pendl, S., Humphries, C.J., Gross, W.L., Binder, J.R. (2012) The Neural Representation of Event Nouns. Presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Neurobiology of Language, San Sebastian, Spain

Event nouns (e.g., circus) differ from non-event nouns (e.g., dandelion) in their reference to dynamic temporal and spatial configurations. We asked whether the dynamic nature of event concepts leads to recruitment of specific brain regions. Fifteen volunteers underwent event-related fMRI, during which they read individual nouns and indicated with button presses whether or not they could experience the indicated entity with their senses. The 40 event nouns and 40 non-event nouns were matched on word frequency, imageability, length, orthographic neighborhood size, constrained bigram frequency, and constrained trigram frequency. A mix of abstract words and pseudowords served as filler items. Event words more strongly activated the left posterior middle temporal gyrus (pMTG; -59, -50, 1), left angular gyrus (AG; -32, -77, 37), and left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG; -40, 7, 26). While all of these regions have been identified previously as belonging to the semantic system, these results suggest a unique neural representation for the semantic content of event words. Event concepts depend on knowledge of thematic relationships, spatial relationships, temporal sequences, actions, and causality. A region of the left pMTG overlapping with the focus we observed here was recently linked with processing of causality. Regions including the left AG have been implicated in processing thematic relationships between words in comparison to taxonomic relationships. The present results, together with these previous findings, suggest that portions of the left MTG and left AG are involved in processing specific kinds of knowledge that are unique to event concepts.

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