Neural systems involved in processing novel linguistic constructions and their visual referents

Matthew A. Johnson, Nicholas B. Turk-Browne, Adele E. Goldberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


In language, abstract phrasal patterns provide an important source of meaning, but little is known about whether or how such constructions are used to predict upcoming visual scenes. Findings from two functional magnetic resonance imaging studies indicate that initial exposure to a novel construction allows its semantics to be used for such predictions. Specifically, greater activity in the ventral striatum, a region sensitive to prediction errors, was linked to worse overall comprehension of a novel construction. Moreover, activity in the occipital cortex was attenuated when a visual event could be inferred from a learned construction, which may reflect predictive coding of the event. These effects disappeared when predictions were unlikely: that is, when phrases provided no additional information about visual events. These findings support the idea that learners create and evaluate predictions about new instances during comprehension of novel linguistic constructions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)129-144
Number of pages16
JournalLanguage, Cognition and Neuroscience
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


  • FMRI
  • Language processing
  • Prediction
  • Visual scenes


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