Conversational interaction in the scanner: mentalizing during language processing as revealed by MEG

Bögels, S., Barr, D. J. , Garrod, S. and Kessler, K. (2014) Conversational interaction in the scanner: mentalizing during language processing as revealed by MEG. Cerebral Cortex, 25(9), pp. 3219-3234. (doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhu116) (PMID:24904076) (PMCID:PMC4537451)

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Humans are especially good at taking another’s perspective—representing what others might be thinking or experiencing. This "mentalizing" capacity is apparent in everyday human interactions and conversations. We investigated its neural basis using Magnetoencephalography (MEG). We focused on whether mentalizing was engaged spontaneously and routinely to understand an utterance’s meaning or largely on-demand, to restore "common ground" when expectations were violated. Participants conversed with one of two confederate speakers and established tacit agreements about objects’ names. In a subsequent "test" phase some of these agreements were violated by either the same or a different speaker. Our analysis of the neural processing of test phase utterances revealed recruitment of neural circuits associated with language (temporal cortex), episodic memory (e.g., medial temporal lobe), and mentalizing (temporo-parietal junction and ventromedial prefrontal cortex). Theta oscillations (3-7 Hz) were modulated most prominently, and we observed phase-coupling between functionally distinct neural circuits. The episodic memory and language circuits were recruited in anticipation of upcoming referring expressions, suggesting that context-sensitive predictions were spontaneously generated. In contrast, the mentalizing areas were recruited on-demand, as a means for detecting and resolving perceived pragmatic anomalies, with little evidence they were activated to make partner-specific predictions about upcoming linguistic utterances.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:This article has been accepted for publication in Cerebral Cortex ©: 2014 Oxford University Press. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Barr, Dr Dale and Garrod, Professor Simon and Kessler, Dr Klaus
Authors: Bögels, S., Barr, D. J., Garrod, S., and Kessler, K.
Subjects:B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Psychology & Neuroscience
Journal Name:Cerebral Cortex
Publisher:Oxford University Press
ISSN (Online):1460-2199
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2014 The Authors
First Published:First published in Cerebral Cortex 25(9):3219-3234
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
550321Understanding the two forms of visuo-spatial perspective taking:"I know what you can see" versus "I see the world through your eyes"Klaus KesslerEconomic & Social Research Council (ESRC)ES/I019545/1INP - CENTRE FOR COGNITIVE NEUROIMAGING