The Nature and Neural Correlates of Semantic Association versus Conceptual Similarity.
ABSTRACT: The ability to represent concepts and the relationships between them is critical to human cognition. How does the brain code relationships between items that share basic conceptual properties (e.g., dog and wolf) while simultaneously representing associative links between dissimilar items that co-occur in particular contexts (e.g., dog and bone)? To clarify the neural bases of these semantic components in neurologically intact participants, both types of semantic relationship were investigated in an fMRI study optimized for anterior temporal lobe (ATL) coverage. The clear principal finding was that the same core semantic network (ATL, superior temporal sulcus, ventral prefrontal cortex) was equivalently engaged when participants made semantic judgments on the basis of association or conceptual similarity. Direct comparisons revealed small, weaker differences for conceptual similarity > associative decisions (e.g., inferior prefrontal cortex) and associative > conceptual similarity (e.g., ventral parietal cortex) which appear to reflect graded differences in task difficulty. Indeed, once reaction time was entered as a covariate into the analysis, no associative versus category differences remained. The paper concludes with a discussion of how categorical/feature-based and associative relationships might be represented within a single, unified semantic system.
Project description:The anterior temporal lobe (ATL) is considered a crucial area for the representation of transmodal concepts. Recent evidence suggests that specific regions within the ATL support the representation of individual object concepts, as shown by studies combining multivariate analysis methods and explicit measures of semantic knowledge. This research looks to further our understanding by probing conceptual representations at a spatially and temporally resolved neural scale. Representational similarity analysis was applied to human intracranial recordings from anatomically defined lateral to medial ATL sub-regions. Neural similarity patterns were tested against semantic similarity measures, where semantic similarity was defined by a hybrid corpus-based and feature-based approach. Analyses show that the perirhinal cortex, in the medial ATL, significantly related to semantic effects around 200 to 400 ms, and were greater than more lateral ATL regions. Further, semantic effects were present in low frequency (theta and alpha) oscillatory phase signals. These results provide converging support that more medial regions of the ATL support the representation of basic-level visual object concepts within the first 400 ms, and provide a bridge between prior fMRI and MEG work by offering detailed evidence for the presence of conceptual representations within the ATL.
Project description:Electrocorticograms (ECoG) provide a unique opportunity to monitor neural activity directly at the cortical surface. Ten patients with subdural electrodes covering ventral and lateral anterior temporal regions (ATL) performed a picture naming task. Temporal representational similarity analysis (RSA) was used, for the first time, to compare spatio-temporal neural patterns from the ATL surface with pre-defined theoretical models. The results indicate that the neural activity in the ventral subregion of the ATL codes semantic representations from 250 msec after picture onset. The observed activation similarity was not related to the visual similarity of the pictures or the phonological similarity of their names. In keeping with convergent evidence for the importance of the ATL in semantic processing, these results provide the first direct evidence of semantic coding from the surface of the ventral ATL and its time-course.
Project description:To recognize visual objects, our sensory perceptions are transformed through dynamic neural interactions into meaningful representations of the world but exactly how visual inputs invoke object meaning remains unclear. To address this issue, we apply a regression approach to magnetoencephalography data, modeling perceptual and conceptual variables. Key conceptual measures were derived from semantic feature-based models claiming shared features (e.g., has eyes) provide broad category information, while distinctive features (e.g., has a hump) are additionally required for more specific object identification. Our results show initial perceptual effects in visual cortex that are rapidly followed by semantic feature effects throughout ventral temporal cortex within the first 120 ms. Moreover, these early semantic effects reflect shared semantic feature information supporting coarse category-type distinctions. Post-200 ms, we observed the effects along the extent of ventral temporal cortex for both shared and distinctive features, which together allow for conceptual differentiation and object identification. By relating spatiotemporal neural activity to statistical feature-based measures of semantic knowledge, we demonstrate that qualitatively different kinds of perceptual and semantic information are extracted from visual objects over time, with rapid activation of shared object features followed by concomitant activation of distinctive features that together enable meaningful visual object recognition.
Project description:An influential account of reading holds that words with exceptional spelling-to-sound correspondences (e.g., PINT) are read via activation of their lexical-semantic representations, supported by the anterior temporal lobe (ATL). This account has been inconclusive because it is based on neuropsychological evidence, in which lesion-deficit relationships are difficult to localize precisely, and functional neuroimaging data, which is spatially precise but cannot demonstrate whether the ATL activity is necessary for exception word reading. To address these issues, we used a technique with good spatial specificity-repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS)-to demonstrate a necessary role of ATL in exception word reading. Following rTMS to left ventral ATL, healthy Japanese adults made more regularization errors in reading Japanese exception words. We successfully simulated these results in a computational model in which exception word reading was underpinned by semantic activations. The ATL is critically and selectively involved in reading exception words.
Project description:There are two general classes of models of semantic structure that support semantic priming effects. Feature-overlap models of semantic priming assume that shared features between primes and targets are critical (e.g., cat-DOG). Associative accounts assume that contextual co-occurrence is critical and that the system is organized along associations independent of featural overlap (e.g., leash-DOG). If unrelated concepts can become related as a result of contextual co-occurrence, this would be more supportive of associative accounts and provide insight into the nature of the network underlying "semantic" priming effects. Naturally co-occurring recent associations (e.g., face-BOOK) were tested under conditions that minimize strategic influences (i.e., short stimulus onset asynchrony and low relatedness proportion) in a semantic priming paradigm. Priming for new associations did not differ from the priming found for pre-existing relations (e.g., library-BOOK). Mediated priming (e.g., nose-BOOK) was also found. These results suggest that contextual associations can result in the reorganization of the network that subserves "semantic" priming effects.
Project description:The anterior temporal lobe (ATL) plays a prominent role in models of semantic knowledge, although it remains unclear how the specific subregions within the ATL contribute to semantic memory. Patients with neurodegenerative diseases, like semantic dementia, have widespread damage to the ATL thus making inferences about the relationship between anatomy and cognition problematic. Here we take a detailed anatomical approach to ask which substructures within the ATL contribute to conceptual processing, with the prediction that the perirhinal cortex (PRc) will play a critical role for concepts that are more semantically confusable. We tested two patient groups, those with and without damage to the PRc, across two behavioural experiments - picture naming and word-picture matching. For both tasks, we manipulated the degree of semantic confusability of the concepts. By contrasting the performance of the two groups, along with healthy controls, we show that damage to the PRc results in worse performance in processing concepts with higher semantic confusability across both experiments. Further by correlating the degree of damage across anatomically defined regions of interest with performance, we find that PRc damage is related to performance for concepts with increased semantic confusability. Our results show that the PRc supports a necessary and crucial neurocognitve function that enables fine-grained conceptual processes to take place through the resolution of semantic confusability.
Project description:Built upon a wealth of neuroimaging, neurostimulation, and neuropsychology data, a recent proposal set forth a framework termed controlled semantic cognition (CSC) to account for how the brain underpins the ability to flexibly use semantic knowledge (Lambon Ralph et al., 2017; Nature Reviews Neuroscience). In CSC, the 'semantic control' system, underpinned predominantly by the prefrontal cortex, dynamically monitors and modulates the 'semantic representation' system that consists of a 'hub' (anterior temporal lobe, ATL) and multiple 'spokes' (modality-specific areas). CSC predicts that unfamiliar and exacting semantic tasks should intensify communication between the 'control' and 'representation' systems, relative to familiar and less taxing tasks. In the present study, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to test this hypothesis. Participants paired unrelated concepts by canonical colours (a less accustomed task - e.g., pairing ketchup with fire-extinguishers due to both being red) or paired well-related concepts by semantic relationship (a typical task - e.g., ketchup is related to mustard). We found the 'control' system was more engaged by atypical than typical pairing. While both tasks activated the ATL 'hub', colour pairing additionally involved occipitotemporal 'spoke' regions abutting areas of hue perception. Furthermore, we uncovered a gradient along the ventral temporal cortex, transitioning from the caudal 'spoke' zones preferring canonical colour processing to the rostral 'hub' zones preferring semantic relationship. Functional connectivity also differed between the tasks: Compared with semantic pairing, colour pairing relied more upon the inferior frontal gyrus, a key node of the control system, driving enhanced connectivity with occipitotemporal 'spoke'. Together, our findings characterise the interaction within the neural architecture of semantic cognition - the control system dynamically heightens its connectivity with relevant components of the representation system, in response to different semantic contents and difficulty levels.
Project description:Language comprehension engages a distributed network of frontotemporal, parietal, and sensorimotor regions, but it is still unclear how meaning of words and their semantic relationships are represented and processed within these regions and to which degrees lexico-semantic representations differ between regions and semantic types. We used fMRI and representational similarity analysis to relate word-elicited multivoxel patterns to semantic similarity between action and object words. In left inferior frontal (BA 44-45-47), left posterior middle temporal and left precentral cortex, the similarity of brain response patterns reflected semantic similarity among action-related verbs, as well as across lexical classes-between action verbs and tool-related nouns and, to a degree, between action verbs and food nouns, but not between action verbs and animal nouns. Instead, posterior inferior temporal cortex exhibited a reverse response pattern, which reflected the semantic similarity among object-related nouns, but not action-related words. These results show that semantic similarity is encoded by a range of cortical areas, including multimodal association (e.g., anterior inferior frontal, posterior middle temporal) and modality-preferential (premotor) cortex and that the representational geometries in these regions are partly dependent on semantic type, with semantic similarity among action-related words crossing lexical-semantic category boundaries.
Project description:Inappropriate social behaviours are early and distinctive symptoms of the temporal and frontal variants of frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD). Knowledge of social behaviour is essential for appropriate social conduct. It is unknown, however, in what way this knowledge is degraded in FTLD. In a recent functional MRI study, we have identified a right-lateralized superior anterior temporal lobe (aTL) region showing selective activation for 'social concepts' (i.e. concepts describing social behaviour: e.g. 'polite', 'stingy') as compared with concepts describing less socially relevant animal behaviour ('animal function concepts': e.g. 'trainable', 'nutritious'). In a further fMRI study, superior aTL activation was independent of the context of actions and feelings associated with these social concepts. Here, we investigated whether the right superior sector of the aTL is necessary for context-independent knowledge of social concepts. We assessed neuronal glucose uptake using 18-fluoro-deoxy-glucose-positron emission tomography (FDG-PET) and a novel semantic discrimination task which probed knowledge of social and animal function concepts in patients with FTLD (n = 29) and corticobasal syndrome (n = 18). FTLD and corticobasal syndrome groups performed equally poorly on animal function concepts but FTLD patients showed more pronounced impairments on social concepts than corticobasal syndrome patients. FTLD patients with right superior aTL hypometabolism, as determined on individual ROI analyses, were significantly more impaired on social concepts than on animal function concepts. FTLD patients with selective impairments for social concepts, as determined on individual neuropsychological profiles, showed higher levels of inappropriate social behaviours ('disinhibition') and demonstrated more pronounced hypometabolism in the right superior aTL, the left temporal pole and the right lateral orbitofrontal and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex as compared with FTLD patients showing selective impairments of animal function concepts. Combining both FTLD subgroup analyses, based on anatomical and neuropsychological criteria, by using inclusive masks, revealed the right superior aTL as associated with selective impairments of social concepts in both analyses. These results corroborate the hypothesis that the right aTL is necessary for representing conceptual social knowledge. Further, we provide first evidence for the potential importance of conceptual social knowledge impairments as contributing to behavioural symptoms of FTLD.
Project description:Distinct neural processes are thought to support the retrieval of semantic information that is (i) coherent with strongly-encoded aspects of knowledge, and (ii) non-dominant yet relevant for the current task or context. While the brain regions that support readily coherent and more controlled patterns of semantic retrieval are relatively well-characterised, the temporal dynamics of these processes are not well-understood. This study used magnetoencephalography (MEG) and dual-pulse chronometric transcranial magnetic stimulation (cTMS) in two separate experiments to examine temporal dynamics during the retrieval of strong and weak associations. MEG results revealed a dissociation within left temporal cortex: anterior temporal lobe (ATL) showed greater oscillatory response for strong than weak associations, while posterior middle temporal gyrus (pMTG) showed the reverse pattern. Left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), a site associated with semantic control and retrieval, showed both patterns at different time points. In the cTMS experiment, stimulation of ATL at ?150 msec disrupted the efficient retrieval of strong associations, indicating a necessary role for ATL in coherent conceptual activations. Stimulation of pMTG at the onset of the second word disrupted the retrieval of weak associations, suggesting this site may maintain information about semantic context from the first word, allowing efficient engagement of semantic control. Together these studies provide converging evidence for a functional dissociation within the temporal lobe, across both tasks and time.