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The role of coherence and cohesion in text comprehension: an event-related fMRI study

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Ferstl,  Evelyn C.
MPI of Cognitive Neuroscience (Leipzig, -2003), The Prior Institutes, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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von Cramon,  D. Yves
MPI of Cognitive Neuroscience (Leipzig, -2003), The Prior Institutes, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Ferstl, E. C., & von Cramon, D. Y. (2001). The role of coherence and cohesion in text comprehension: an event-related fMRI study. Cognitive Brain Research, 11(3), 325-340. doi:10.1016/S0926-6410(01)00007-6.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0010-E367-5
Abstract
Text processing requires inferences for establishing coherence between successive sentences. In neuropsychological studies and brain imaging studies, these coherence-building processes have been ascribed to the right hemisphere. On the other hand, there is evidence for prefrontal brain damage causing non-aphasic language disorders, in which text level processes are impaired. In this study, we used an event-related, whole-head fMRI methodology to evaluate the contributions of prefrontal areas and the right hemisphere to coherence building. We scanned 12 participants while they read 120 sentence pairs and judged their coherence. Four conditions were used, resulting from crossing coherence and cohesion (i.e. the presence of a lexical connection). A behavioral pretest confirmed that cohesion aided establishing coherence, whereas it hindered the detection of coherence breaks. In the fMRI study, all language conditions yielded activation in left frontolateral and temporolateral regions, when compared to a physical control task. The differences due to coherence of the sentence pairs were most evident in larger activation for coherent as compared to incoherent sentence pairs in the left frontomedian wall, but also in posterior cingulate and precuneal regions. Finally, a left inferior prefrontal area was sensitive to the difficulty of the task, and in particular to the increase in processing costs when cohesion falsely indicated coherence. These results could not provide evidence for a special involvement of the right hemisphere during inferencing. Rather, they suggest that the left frontomedian cortex plays an important role in coherence building.