Abstract

This research studies the neural systems underlying two integration processes that take place during natural discourse comprehension: consistency evaluation and passive comprehension. Evaluation was operationalized with a consistency judgment task and passive comprehension with a passive listening task. Using fMRI, the experiment examined the integration of incoming sentences with more recent, local context and with more distal, global context in these two tasks. The stimuli were stories in which we manipulated the consistency of the endings with the local context and the relevance of the global context for the integration of the endings. A whole-brain analysis revealed several differences between the two tasks. Two networks previously associated with semantic processing and attention orienting showed more activation during the judgment than the passive listening task. A network previously associated with episodic memory retrieval and construction of mental scenes showed greater activity when global context was relevant, but only during the judgment task. This suggests that evaluation, more than passive listening, triggers the reinstantiation of global context and the construction of a rich mental model for the story. Finally, a network previously linked to fluent updating of a knowledge base showed greater activity for locally consistent endings than inconsistent ones, but only during passive listening, suggesting a mode of comprehension that relies on a local scope approach to language processing. Taken together, these results show that consistency evaluation and passive comprehension weigh differently on distal and local information and are implemented, in part, by different brain networks.

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