Predicting “when” in discourse engages the human dorsal auditory stream: An fMRI study using naturalistic stories

Katerina Danae Kandylaki*, Arne Nagels, Sarah Tune, Tilo Kircher, Richard Wiese, Matthias Schlesewsky, Ina Bornkessel-Schlesewsky

*Corresponding author for this work
7 Citations (Scopus)


The hierarchical organization of human cortical circuits integrates information across different timescales via temporal receptive windows, which increase in length from lower to higher levels of the cortical hierarchy (Hasson et al., 2015). A recent neurobiological model of higher-order language processing (Bornkessel-Schlesewsky et al., 2015) posits that temporal receptive windows in the dorsal auditory stream provide the basis for a hierarchically organized predictive coding architecture (Friston and Kiebel, 2009). In this stream, a nested set of internal models generates time-based (“when”) predictions for upcoming input at different linguistic levels (sounds, words, sentences, discourse). Here, we used naturalistic stories to test the hypothesis that multi-sentence, discourse-level predictions are processed in the dorsal auditory stream, yielding attenuated BOLD responses for highly predicted versus less strongly predicted language input. The results were as hypothesized: discourse-related cues, such as passive voice, which effect a higher predictability of remention for a character at a later point within a story, led to attenuated BOLD responses for auditory input of high versus low predictability within the dorsal auditory stream, specifically in the inferior parietal lobule, middle frontal gyrus, and dorsal parts of the inferior frontal gyrus, among other areas. Additionally, we found effects of content-related (“what”) predictions in ventral regions. These findings provide novel evidence that hierarchical predictive coding extends to discourse-level processing in natural language. Importantly, they ground language processing on a hierarchically organized predictive network, as a common underlying neurobiological basis shared with other brain functions.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number48
Pages (from-to)12180-12191
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 30.11.2016

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)


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