Inferior parietal lobule and early visual areas support elicitation of individualized meanings during narrative listening

Brain Behav. 2019 May;9(5):e01288. doi: 10.1002/brb3.1288. Epub 2019 Apr 11.


Introduction: When listening to a narrative, the verbal expressions translate into meanings and flow of mental imagery. However, the same narrative can be heard quite differently based on differences in listeners' previous experiences and knowledge. We capitalized on such differences to disclose brain regions that support transformation of narrative into individualized propositional meanings and associated mental imagery by analyzing brain activity associated with behaviorally assessed individual meanings elicited by a narrative.

Methods: Sixteen right-handed female subjects were instructed to list words that best described what had come to their minds while listening to an eight-minute narrative during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The fMRI data were analyzed by calculating voxel-wise intersubject correlation (ISC) values. We used latent semantic analysis (LSA) enhanced with Wordnet knowledge to measure semantic similarity of the produced words between subjects. Finally, we predicted the ISC with the semantic similarity using representational similarity analysis.

Results: We found that semantic similarity in these word listings between subjects, estimated using LSA combined with WordNet knowledge, predicting similarities in brain hemodynamic activity. Subject pairs whose individual semantics were similar also exhibited similar brain activity in the bilateral supramarginal and angular gyrus of the inferior parietal lobe, and in the occipital pole.

Conclusions: Our results demonstrate, using a novel method to measure interindividual differences in semantics, brain mechanisms giving rise to semantics and associated imagery during narrative listening. During listening to a captivating narrative, the inferior parietal lobe and early visual cortical areas seem, thus, to support elicitation of individual meanings and flow of mental imagery.

Keywords: brain mechanisms; functional magnetic resonance imaging; interindividual differences; meaning; semantics; similarity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Individuality
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Narration
  • Parietal Lobe* / diagnostic imaging
  • Parietal Lobe* / physiology
  • Semantics
  • Visual Cortex* / diagnostic imaging
  • Visual Cortex* / physiology