The ventrolateral prefrontal cortex facilitates processing of sentential context to locate referents

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Abstract

Left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) has been implicated in both integration and conflict resolution in sentence comprehension. Most evidence in favor of the integration account comes from processing ambiguous or anomalous sentences, which also poses a demand for conflict resolution. In two eye-tracking experiments we studied the role of VLPFC in integration when demands for conflict resolution were minimal. Two closely-matched groups of individuals with chronic post-stroke aphasia were tested: the Anterior group had damage to left VLPFC, whereas the Posterior group had left temporo-parietal damage. In Experiment 1 a semantic cue (e.g., “She will eat the apple”) uniquely marked the target (apple) among three distractors that were incompatible with the verb. In Experiment 2 phonological cues (e.g., “She will see an eagle.”/“She will see a bear.”) uniquely marked the target among three distractors whose onsets were incompatible with the cue (e.g., all consonants when the target started with a vowel). In both experiments, control conditions had a similar format, but contained no semantic or phonological contextual information useful for target integration (e.g., the verb “see”, and the determiner “the”). All individuals in the Anterior group were slower in using both types of contextual information to locate the target than were individuals in the Posterior group. These results suggest a role for VLPFC in integration beyond conflict resolution. We discuss a framework that accommodates both integration and conflict resolution.

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