Contextual alignment of cognitive and neural dynamics
Effective real-world communication requires the alignment of multiple individuals to a common perspective or mental framework. To study how this alignment occurs at the level of the brain, we measured BOLD response during fMRI while participants (n = 24) listened to a series of vignettes either in the presence or absence of a valid contextual cue. The valid contextual cue was necessary to understand the information in each vignette. We then examined where and to what extent the shared valid context led to greater intersubject similarity of neural processing. Regions of the default mode network including posterior cingulate cortex and medial pFC became more aligned when participants shared a valid contextual framework, whereas other regions, including primary sensory cortices, responded to the stimuli reliably regardless of contextual factors. Taken in conjunction with previous research, the present results suggest that default mode regions help the brain to organize incoming verbal information in the context of previous knowledge.