Predictions interact with missing sensory evidence in semantic processing areas

Mathias Scharinger*, Alexandra Bendixen, Björn Herrmann, Molly J. Henry, Toralf Mildner, Jonas Obleser

*Corresponding author for this work
1 Citation (Scopus)


Human brain function draws on predictive mechanisms that exploit higher-level context during lower-level perception. These mechanisms are particularly relevant for situations in which sensory information is compromised or incomplete, as for example in natural speech where speech segments may be omitted due to sluggish articulation. Here, we investigate which brain areas support the processing of incomplete words that were predictable from semantic context, compared with incomplete words that were unpredictable. During functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), participants heard sentences that orthogonally varied in predictability (semantically predictable vs. unpredictable) and completeness (complete vs. incomplete, i.e. missing their final consonant cluster). The effects of predictability and completeness interacted in heteromodal semantic processing areas, including left angular gyrus and left precuneus, where activity did not differ between complete and incomplete words when they were predictable. The same regions showed stronger activity for incomplete than for complete words when they were unpredictable. The interaction pattern suggests that for highly predictable words, the speech signal does not need to be complete for neural processing in semantic processing areas. Hum Brain Mapp 37:704-716, 2016.

Original languageEnglish
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)704-716
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 01.02.2016

Research Areas and Centers

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


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