Differential processing of thematic and categorical conceptual relations in spoken word production

J Exp Psychol Gen. 2013 Feb;142(1):131-142. doi: 10.1037/a0028717. Epub 2012 May 28.


Studies of semantic context effects in spoken word production have typically distinguished between categorical (or taxonomic) and associative relations. However, associates tend to confound semantic features or morphological representations, such as whole-part relations and compounds (e.g., BOAT-anchor, BEE-hive). Using a picture-word interference paradigm and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we manipulated categorical (COW-rat) and thematic (COW-pasture) TARGET-distractor relations in a balanced design, finding interference and facilitation effects on naming latencies, respectively, as well as differential patterns of brain activation compared with an unrelated distractor condition. While both types of distractor relation activated the middle portion of the left middle temporal gyrus (MTG) consistent with retrieval of conceptual or lexical representations, categorical relations involved additional activation of posterior left MTG, consistent with retrieval of a lexical cohort. Thematic relations involved additional activation of the left angular gyrus. These results converge with recent lesion evidence implicating the left inferior parietal lobe in processing thematic relations and may indicate a potential role for this region during spoken word production.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Concept Formation / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Knowledge*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Semantics
  • Speech / physiology*