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Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2014 Aug;9(8):1166-74. doi: 10.1093/scan/nst091. Epub 2013 Jul 26.

Cognitive empathy modulates the processing of pragmatic constraints during sentence comprehension.

Author information

1
Center for Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Department of Psychology and Key Laboratory of Machine Perception and Key Laboratory of Computational Linguistics (Ministry of Education), and PKU-IDG/McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Peking University, Beijing 100871, People's Republic of China.
2
Center for Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Department of Psychology and Key Laboratory of Machine Perception and Key Laboratory of Computational Linguistics (Ministry of Education), and PKU-IDG/McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Peking University, Beijing 100871, People's Republic of ChinaCenter for Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Department of Psychology and Key Laboratory of Machine Perception and Key Laboratory of Computational Linguistics (Ministry of Education), and PKU-IDG/McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Peking University, Beijing 100871, People's Republic of ChinaCenter for Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Department of Psychology and Key Laboratory of Machine Perception and Key Laboratory of Computational Linguistics (Ministry of Education), and PKU-IDG/McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Peking University, Beijing 100871, People's Republic of China xz104@pku.edu.cn.

Abstract

Previous studies have shown that brain regions for mentalizing, including temporoparietal junction (TPJ) and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), are activated in understanding the nonliteral meaning of sentences. A different set of brain regions, including left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), is activated for dealing with pragmatic incongruence. Here we demonstrate that individuals' cognitive empathic ability modulates the brain activity underlying the processing of pragmatic constraints during sentence comprehension. The lian … dou … construction in Chinese (similar to English even) normally describes an event of low expectedness; it also introduces a pragmatic scale against which the likelihood of an underspecified event can be inferred. By embedding neutral or highly likely events in the construction, we created underspecified and incongruent sentences and compared both with control sentences in which events of low expectedness were described. Imaging results showed that (i) left TPJ was activated for the underspecified sentences, and the activity in mPFC correlated with individuals' fantasizing ability and (ii) anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) was activated for the incongruent sentences, and the activity in bilateral IFG correlated with individuals' perspective taking ability. These findings suggest that brain activations in making pragmatic inference and in dealing with pragmatic failure are modulated by different components of cognitive empathy.

KEYWORDS:

ACC; TPJ; cognitive empathy; fMRI; pragmatic inference; sentence comprehension

PMID:
23893849
PMCID:
PMC4127016
DOI:
10.1093/scan/nst091
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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