Decoding and encoding models reveal the role of mental simulation in the brain representation of meaning
Sheikh, Usman Ayub
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Soto D, Sheikh UA, Mei N, Santana R. 2020 Decoding and encoding models reveal the role of mental simulation in the brain representation of meaning. R. Soc. Open Sci. 7: 192043. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.192043
How the brain representation of conceptual knowledge varies as a function of processing goals, strategies and task-factors remains a key unresolved question in cognitive neuroscience. In the present functional magnetic resonance imaging study, participants were presented with visual words during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). During shallow processing, participants had to read the items. During deep processing, they had to mentally simulate the features associated with the words. Multivariate classification, informational connectivity and encoding models were used to reveal how the depth of processing determines the brain representation of word meaning. Decoding accuracy in putative substrates of the semantic network was enhanced when the depth processing was high, and the brain representations were more generalizable in semantic space relative to shallow processing contexts. This pattern was observed even in association areas in inferior frontal and parietal cortex. Deep information processing during mental simulation also increased the informational connectivity within key substrates of the semantic network. To further examine the properties of the words encoded in brain activity, we compared computer vision models—associated with the image referents of the words—and word embedding. Computer vision models explained more variance of the brain responses across multiple areas of the semantic network. These results indicate that the brain representation of word meaning is highly malleable by the depth of processing imposed by the task, relies on access to visual representations and is highly distributed, including prefrontal areas previously implicated in semantic control.