Semantic categorization is a fundamental ability in language as well as in interaction with the environment. However, it is unclear what cognitive and neural basis generates this flexible and context dependent categorization of semantic information. We performed behavioral and fMRI experiments with a semantic priming paradigm to clarify this. Participants conducted semantic decision tasks in which a prime word preceded target words, using names of animals (mammals, birds, or fish). We focused on the categorization of unique marine mammals, having characteristics of both mammals and fish. Behavioral experiments indicated that marine mammals were semantically closer to fish than terrestrial mammals, inconsistent with the category membership. The fMRI results showed that the left anterior temporal lobe was sensitive to the semantic distance between prime and target words rather than category membership, while the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex was sensitive to the consistency of category membership of word pairs.
Task scheme of behavioral experiments. Participants were asked to judge whether the target word was living or nonliving as quickly as possible. In the fMRI experiment, the response was required 1000 ms after the presentation of the target word.
We interpreted these results as evidence of existence of dual processes for semantic categorization. The combination of bottom-up processing based on semantic characteristics in the left anterior temporal lobe and top-down processing based on task and/or context specific information in the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex is required for the flexible categorization of semantic information.
Matsumoto, A., Soshi, T., Fujimaki, N. et al. Distinctive responses in anterior temporal lobe and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex during categorization of semantic information. Sci Rep 11, 13343 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-92726-7