On the same wavelength: predictable language enhances speaker-listener brain-to-brain synchrony in posterior superior temporal gyrus

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Journal Article

Recent research has shown that the degree to which speakers and listeners exhibit similar brain activity patterns during human linguistic interaction is correlated with communicative success. Here, we used an intersubject correlation approach in fMRI to test the hypothesis that a listener’s ability to predict a speaker’s utterance increases such neural coupling between speakers and listeners. Nine subjects listened to recordings of a speaker describing visual scenes that varied in the degree to which they permitted specific linguistic predictions. In line with our hypothesis, the temporal profile of listeners’ brain activity was significantly more synchronous with the speaker’s brain activity for highly predictive contexts in left posterior superior temporal gyrus (pSTG), an area previously associated with predictive auditory language processing. In this region, predictability differentially affected the temporal profiles of brain responses in the speaker and listeners respectively, in turn affecting correlated activity between the two: where asp STG activation increased with predictability in the speaker, listeners’ pSTG activity instead decreased for more predictable sentences. Listeners additionally showed stronger BOLD responses for predictive images before sentence onset, suggesting that highly predictable contexts lead comprehenders to preactivate predicted words.

The Journal of Neuroscience