Predictions interact with missing sensory evidence in semantic processing areas

Hum Brain Mapp. 2016 Feb;37(2):704-16. doi: 10.1002/hbm.23060. Epub 2015 Nov 19.


Human brain function draws on predictive mechanisms that exploit higher-level context during lower-level perception. These mechanisms are particularly relevant for situations in which sensory information is compromised or incomplete, as for example in natural speech where speech segments may be omitted due to sluggish articulation. Here, we investigate which brain areas support the processing of incomplete words that were predictable from semantic context, compared with incomplete words that were unpredictable. During functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), participants heard sentences that orthogonally varied in predictability (semantically predictable vs. unpredictable) and completeness (complete vs. incomplete, i.e. missing their final consonant cluster). The effects of predictability and completeness interacted in heteromodal semantic processing areas, including left angular gyrus and left precuneus, where activity did not differ between complete and incomplete words when they were predictable. The same regions showed stronger activity for incomplete than for complete words when they were unpredictable. The interaction pattern suggests that for highly predictable words, the speech signal does not need to be complete for neural processing in semantic processing areas. Hum Brain Mapp 37:704-716, 2016. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Keywords: angular gyrus; fMRI; incomplete speech; predictive mechanisms; semantic context; sentence processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language Tests
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Reaction Time
  • Semantics*
  • Sound Spectrography
  • Speech Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Oxygen