Readers select a comprehension mode independent of pronoun: Evidence from fMRI during narrative comprehension

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Perspective is a crucial feature for communicating about events. Yet it is unclear how linguistically encoded perspective relates to cognitive perspective taking. Here, we tested the effect of perspective taking with short literary stories. Participants listened to stories with 1st or 3rd person pronouns referring to the protagonist, while undergoing fMRI. When comparing action events with 1st and 3rd person pronouns, we found no evidence for a neural dissociation depending on the pronoun. A split sample approach based on the self-reported experience of perspective taking revealed 3 comprehension preferences. One group showed a strong 1st person preference, another a strong 3rd person preference, while a third group engaged in 1st and 3rd person perspective taking simultaneously. Comparing brain activations of the groups revealed different neural networks. Our results suggest that comprehension is perspective dependent, but not on the perspective suggested by the text, but on the reader’s (situational) preference.

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