Sentential negation of abstract and concrete conceptual categories: A brain decoding multivariate pattern analysis study

Marta Ghio, Karolin Haegert, Matilde M. Vaghi, Marco Tettamanti

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12 Citations (Scopus)


We rarely use abstract and concrete concepts in isolation but rather embedded within a linguistic context. To examine the modulatory impact of the linguistic context on conceptual processing, we isolated the case of sentential negation polarity, in which an interaction occurs between the syntactic operator not and conceptual information in the negation's scope. Previous studies suggested that sentential negation of concrete action-related concepts modulates activation in the fronto-parieto-temporal action representation network. In this functional magnetic resonance imaging study, we examined the influence of negation on a wider spectrum of meanings, by factorially manipulating sentence polarity (affirmative, negative) and fine-grained abstract (mental state, emotion, mathematics) and concrete (related to mouth, hand, leg actions) conceptual categories. We adopted a multivariate pattern analysis approach, and tested the accuracy of a machine learning classifier in discriminating brain activation patterns associated to the factorial manipulation. Searchlight analysis was used to localize the discriminating patterns. Overall, the neural processing of affirmative and negative sentences with either an abstract or concrete content could be accurately predicted by means of multivariate classification. We suggest that sentential negation polarity modulates brain activation in distributed representational semantic networks, through the functional mediation of syntactic and cognitive control systems.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20170124
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1752
Early online date18 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - 5 Aug 2018

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