The neurocognitive basis of knowledge about object identity and events: Dissociations reflect opposing effects of semantic coherence and control

Elizabeth Jefferies, Hannah Thompson, Piers Cornelissen, Jonathan Smallwood

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49 Citations (Scopus)
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Semantic memory encompasses knowledge of specific objects and their diverse associations, but the mechanisms that allow us to retrieve aspects of knowledge required for a given task are poorly understood. The Dual Hub theory suggests that separate semantic stores represent knowledge of (i) taxonomic categories (in the anterior temporal lobes, ATL) and (ii) thematic associations (in angular gyrus, AG or posterior middle temporal gyrus, pMTG). Alternatively, the Controlled Semantic Cognition (CSC) framework suggests that semantic processing emerges from the flexible interaction of heteromodal semantic representations in ATL with a semantic control network, which includes pMTG as well as prefrontal regions. According to this view, ATL supports patterns of coherent auto-associative retrieval, while semantic control sites respond when ongoing conceptual activation needs to be altered to suit the task or context. These theories make different predictions about the nature of functional dissociations within the semantic network. We review evidence for these claims across multiple methods. First, we show ATL is sensitive to the strength of thematic associations as well as taxonomic relations. Next, we document functional dissociations between AG and pMTG: rather than these regions acting as comparable thematic hubs, AG is allied to the default mode network and supports more ‘automatic’ retrieval, while pMTG responds when control demands are high. However, the semantic control network, including pMTG, also shows a greater response to events/actions and verbs, supporting the claims of both theories. We propose that tasks tapping event semantics often require greater shaping of conceptual retrieval than comparison tasks, since these elements of our knowledge are inherently flexible, with relevant features depending on the context. In this way, the CSC account might be able to account for findings that suggest both a process and a content distinction within the semantic network.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20190300
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1791
Early online date16 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 3 Feb 2020


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