Timecourse and convergence of abstract and concrete knowledge in the anterior temporal lobe




June, 2020


L. Vignali, Y. Xu, J. Turini, O. Collignon, D. Crepaldi, R. Bottini

How is conceptual knowledge organized and retrieved by the brain? Recent evidence points to the anterior temporal lobe (ATL) as a crucial semantic hub integrating both abstract and concrete conceptual features according to a dorsal-to-medial gradient. It is however unclear when this conceptual gradient emerges and how semantic information reaches the ATL during conceptual retrieval. Here we used a multiple regression approach to magnetoencephalography signals of spoken words, combined with dimensionality reduction in concrete and abstract semantic feature spaces. Results showed that the dorsal-to-medial abstract-to-concrete ATL gradient emerges only in late stages of word processing: Abstract and concrete semantic information are initially encoded in posterior temporal regions and travel along separate cortical pathways eventually converging in the ATL. The present finding sheds light on the neural dynamics of conceptual processing that shape the organization of knowledge in the anterior temporal lobe.

The paper is available as a pre-print on bioRxiv.