Neural modelling of the semantic predictability gain under challenging listening conditions

Hum Brain Mapp. 2021 Jan;42(1):110-127. doi: 10.1002/hbm.25208. Epub 2020 Sep 22.


When speech intelligibility is reduced, listeners exploit constraints posed by semantic context to facilitate comprehension. The left angular gyrus (AG) has been argued to drive this semantic predictability gain. Taking a network perspective, we ask how the connectivity within language-specific and domain-general networks flexibly adapts to the predictability and intelligibility of speech. During continuous functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), participants repeated sentences, which varied in semantic predictability of the final word and in acoustic intelligibility. At the neural level, highly predictable sentences led to stronger activation of left-hemispheric semantic regions including subregions of the AG (PGa, PGp) and posterior middle temporal gyrus when speech became more intelligible. The behavioural predictability gain of single participants mapped onto the same regions but was complemented by increased activity in frontal and medial regions. Effective connectivity from PGa to PGp increased for more intelligible sentences. In contrast, inhibitory influence from pre-supplementary motor area to left insula was strongest when predictability and intelligibility of sentences were either lowest or highest. This interactive effect was negatively correlated with the behavioural predictability gain. Together, these results suggest that successful comprehension in noisy listening conditions relies on an interplay of semantic regions and concurrent inhibition of cognitive control regions when semantic cues are available.

Keywords: angular gyrus; cingulo-opercular network; predictability gain; semantic network; speech-in-noise comprehension.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cerebral Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Comprehension / physiology
  • Connectome / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / diagnostic imaging
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Semantics
  • Speech / physiology*
  • Speech Intelligibility / physiology
  • Speech Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult