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Towards a causal role of Broca’s area in language: A TMS-EEG study on syntactic prediction

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Maran,  Matteo
Department Neuropsychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;
International Max Planck Research School on Neuroscience of Communication: Function, Structure, and Plasticity, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Numssen,  Ole
Lise Meitner Research Group Cognition and Plasticity, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Hartwigsen,  Gesa
Lise Meitner Research Group Cognition and Plasticity, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Friederici,  Angela D.
Department Neuropsychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Zaccarella,  Emiliano
Department Neuropsychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Maran, M., Numssen, O., Hartwigsen, G., Friederici, A. D., & Zaccarella, E. (2021). Towards a causal role of Broca’s area in language: A TMS-EEG study on syntactic prediction. bioRxiv. doi:10.1101/2021.04.14.439631.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0008-5570-A
Abstract
Categorical predictions have been proposed as the key mechanism supporting the fast pace of syntactic composition in human language. Accordingly, grammar-based expectations facilitate the analysis of incoming syntactic information—e.g., hearing the determiner “the” enhances the prediction of a noun—which is then checked against a single or few other word categories. Previous functional neuroimaging studies point towards Broca’s area in the left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) as one fundamental cortical region involved in categorical prediction during on-line language processing. Causal evidence for this hypothesis is however still missing. In this study, we combined Electroencephalography (EEG) and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) to test whether Broca’s area is functionally relevant in predictive mechanisms for language. Specifically, we transiently perturbed Broca’s area during the categorical prediction phase in two-word constructions, while simultaneously measuring the Event-Related Potential (ERP) correlates of syntactic composition. We reasoned that if Broca’s area is involved in predictive mechanisms for syntax, disruptive TMS during the processing of the first word (determiner/pronoun) would mitigate the difference in ERP responses for predicted and unpredicted categories when composing basic phrases and sentences. Contrary to our hypothesis, perturbation of Broca’s area at the predictive stage did not affect the ERP correlates of basic composition. The correlation strength between the electrical field induced by TMS and the magnitude of the EEG response on the scalp further confirmed this pattern. We discuss the present results in light of an alternative account of the role of Broca’s area in syntactic composition, namely the bottom-up integration of words into constituents.