Semantic Interference and Its Control: A Functional Neuroimaging and Connectivity Study

Matteo Canini, Pasquale Anthony Della Rosa, Eleonora Catricala, Kristof Strijkers, Francesca Branzi, Albert Costa, Jubin Abutalebi

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During picture naming, the ease with which humans generate words is dependent upon the context in which they are named. For instances, naming previously presented items results in facilitation. Instead, naming a picture semantically related to previous items displays persistent interference effects (i.e., cumulative semantic interference, CSI). The neural correlates of CSI are still unclear and it is a matter of debate whether semantic control, or cognitive control more in general, is necessary for the resolution of CSI. We carried out an event-related fMRI experiment to assess the neural underpinnings of the CSI effect and the involvement and nature of semantic control. Both left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG) and the left caudate nucleus (LCN) showed a linear increase of BOLD response positively associated with the consecutive number of presentations of semantically related pictures independently of task-load. The generalized psychophysiological interaction analysis showed that LIFG demonstrated a quantitative neural connectivity difference with the left supramarginal and angular gyri for increases of task-load and with the fusiform gyri for linear CSI increases. Furthermore, seed-to-voxel functional connectivity showed that LIFG activity coupled with different regions involved in cognitive control and lexicosemantic processing when semantic interference was elicited to a minimum or maximum degree. Our results are consistent with the lexical-competitive nature of the CSI effect, and we provide novel evidence that semantic control lies upon a more general cognitive control network (i.e., LIFG and LCN) responsible for resolving interference between competing semantically related items through connectivity with different brain areas in order to guarantee the correct response.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4179-4196
Number of pages18
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number11
Early online date29 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - 6 Oct 2016


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