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Neuroimage. 2002 Nov;17(3):1306-14.

Neural correlates of artificial grammar learning.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 60208, USA.


Artificial grammar learning (AGL) is a form of nondeclarative memory that involves the nonconscious acquisition of abstract rules. While data from amnesic patients indicate that AGL does not depend on the medial temporal lobe, the neural basis of this type of memory is unknown and was therefore examined using event-related fMRI. Prior to scanning, participants studied letter strings constructed according to an artificial grammar. Participants then made grammaticality judgments about novel grammatical and nongrammatical strings while fMRI data were collected. The participants successfully acquired knowledge of the grammar, as evidenced by correct identification of the grammatical letter strings (57.4% correct; SE 1.9). During grammaticality judgments, widespread increases in activity were observed throughout the occipital, posterior temporal, parietal, and prefrontal cortical areas, reflecting the cognitive demands of the task. More specific analyses contrasting grammatical and nongrammatical strings identified greater activity in left superior occipital cortex and the right fusiform gyrus for grammatical stimuli. Increased activity was also observed in the left superior occipital and left angular gyrus for correct responses compared to incorrect. Comparing activity during grammaticality judgments versus a matched recognition control task again identified greater activation in the left angular gyrus. The network of areas exhibiting increased activity for grammatical stimuli appears to have more in common with studies examining word-form processing or mental calculation than the fluency effects previously reported for nondeclarative memory tasks such as priming and visual categorization. These results suggest that a novel nondeclarative memory mechanism supporting AGL exists in the left superior occipital and inferior parietal cortex.

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