The neural representation of plural discourse entities

Brain Lang. 2014 Oct;137:130-41. doi: 10.1016/j.bandl.2014.08.003. Epub 2014 Sep 16.


Little is known about the underlying neural structures that mediate the generation and tracking of discourse referents. In two functional magnetic resonance imaging experiments, we examined the neural structures involved in generating and maintaining the representations of multiple referents. Experiment 1 used two-sentence discourses with singular and plural conditions linking back to single or conjoined subjects. In Experiment 2, conjunction type was manipulated in order to keep the number of discourse entities constant across the discourse. Both experiments found greater activation in the superior parietal lobule bilaterally for plural entities relative to singular entities in Experiment 1 and for unconjoined plural entities relative to conjoined plural entities in Experiment 2. This parietal activation suggests that referring to multiple entities evokes multiple representations that need to be integrated and tracked. We discuss these findings in terms of psycholinguistic theories of multiple referent representations.

Keywords: Conjunction; Discourse processing; Neuroimaging; Parietal lobes; Plurals; Reference; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cerebellum / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Occipital Lobe / physiology
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Reading
  • Reference Values
  • Semantics*
  • Young Adult