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Journal Article

Functional imaging of the semantic system: retrieval of sensory-experienced and verbally learned knowledge


Noppeney,  U
Research Group Cognitive Neuroimaging, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society;

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Noppeney, U. (2003). Functional imaging of the semantic system: retrieval of sensory-experienced and verbally learned knowledge. Brain and Language, 84(1), 120-133. doi:10.1016/S0093-934X(02)00525-4.

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This paper considers how functional neuro-imaging can be used to investigate the organization of the semantic system and the limitations associated with this technique. The majority of the functional imaging studies of the semantic system have looked for divisions by varying stimulus category. These studies have led to divergent results and no clear anatomical hypotheses have emerged to account for the dissociations seen in behavioral studies. Only a few functional imaging studies have used task as a variable to differentiate the neural correlates of semantic features more directly. We extend these findings by presenting a new study that contrasts tasks that differentially weight sensory (color and taste) and verbally learned (origin) semantic features. Irrespective of the type of semantic feature retrieved, a common semantic system was activated as demonstrated in many previous studies. In addition, the retrieval of verbally learned, but not sensory-experienced, features enhanced activation in medial and lateral posterior parietal areas. We attribute these "verbally learned" effects to differences in retrieval strategy and conclude that evidence for segregation of semantic features at an anatomical level remains weak. We believe that functional imaging has the potential to increase our understanding of the neuronal infrastructure that sustains semantic processing but progress may require multiple experiments until a consistent explanatory framework emerges.