The anterior left inferior frontal gyrus contributes to semantic unification

Z Zhu, P. Hagoort, G Feng, HC Chen, MCM Bastiaansen, S Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Semantic unification, the process by which small blocks of semantic information are combined into a coherent utterance, has been studied with various types of tasks. However, whether the brain activations reported in these studies are attributed to semantic unification per se or to other task-induced concomitant processes still remains unclear. The neural basis for semantic unification in sentence comprehension was examined using event-related potentials (ERP) and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). The semantic unification load was manipulated by varying the goodness of fit between a critical word and its preceding context (in high cloze, low cloze and violation sentences). The sentences were presented in a serial visual presentation mode. The participants were asked to perform one of three tasks: semantic congruency judgment (SEM), silent reading for comprehension (READ), or font size judgment (FONT), in separate sessions. The ERP results showed a similar N400 amplitude modulation by the semantic unification load across all of the three tasks. The brain activations associated with the semantic unification load were found in the anterior left inferior frontal gyrus (aLIFG) in the FONT task and in a widespread set of regions in the other two tasks. These results suggest that the aLIFG activation reflects a semantic unification, which is different from other brain activations that may reflect task-specific strategic processing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2230-2237
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


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