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A dissociation between linguistic and communicative abilities in the human brain

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Willems,  Roel M.
Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, External Organizations;
Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, University of California, Berkeley ;
Interactional Foundations of Language, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Language and Cognition Group, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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De Ruiter,  Jan Peter
Language and Cognition Group, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Department of Psychology, Bielefeld University;

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Hagoort,  Peter
Neurobiology of Language Group, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Language in Action , MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Unification, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, External Organizations;
Interactional Foundations of Language, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Language and Cognition Group, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Willems, R. M., De Boer, M., De Ruiter, J. P., Noordzij, M. L., Hagoort, P., & Toni, I. (2010). A dissociation between linguistic and communicative abilities in the human brain. Psychological Science, 21, 8-14. doi:10.1177/0956797609355563.


Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0013-3D76-B
Abstract
Although language is an effective vehicle for communication, it is unclear how linguistic and communicative abilities relate to each other. Some researchers have argued that communicative message generation involves perspective taking (mentalizing), and—crucially—that mentalizing depends on language. We employed a verbal communication paradigm to directly test whether the generation of a communicative action relies on mentalizing and whether the cerebral bases of communicative message generation are distinct from parts of cortex sensitive to linguistic variables. We found that dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, a brain area consistently associated with mentalizing, was sensitive to the communicative intent of utterances, irrespective of linguistic difficulty. In contrast, left inferior frontal cortex, an area known to be involved in language, was sensitive to the linguistic demands of utterances, but not to communicative intent. These findings show that communicative and linguistic abilities rely on cerebrally (and computationally) distinct mechanisms