Beyond Superior Temporal Cortex: Intersubject Correlations in Narrative Speech Comprehension

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The role of superior temporal cortex in speech comprehension is well established, but the complete network of regions involved in understanding language in ecologically valid contexts is less clearly understood. In a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, we presented 24 subjects with auditory or audiovisual narratives, and used model-free intersubject correlational analyses to reveal brain areas that were modulated in a consistent way across subjects during the narratives. Conventional comparisons to a resting state were also performed. Both analyses showed the expected recruitment of superior temporal areas, however, the intersubject correlational analyses also revealed an extended network of areas involved in narrative speech comprehension. Two findings stand out in particular. Firstly, many areas in the “default mode” network (typically deactivated relative to rest) were systematically modulated by the time-varying properties of the auditory or audiovisual input. These areas included the anterior cingulate and adjacent medial frontal cortex, and the posterior cingulate and adjacent precuneus. Secondly, extensive bilateral inferior frontal and premotor regions were implicated in auditory as well as audiovisual language comprehension. This extended network of regions may be important for higher-level linguistic processes, and interfaces with extralinguistic cognitive, affective, and interpersonal systems.

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