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Keywords:

  • discourse comprehension;
  • fMRI;
  • gestures;
  • semantic processing;
  • inferior frontal gyrus

Abstract

Everyday communication is accompanied by visual information from several sources, including co-speech gestures, which provide semantic information listeners use to help disambiguate the speaker's message. Using fMRI, we examined how gestures influence neural activity in brain regions associated with processing semantic information. The BOLD response was recorded while participants listened to stories under three audiovisual conditions and one auditory-only (speech alone) condition. In the first audiovisual condition, the storyteller produced gestures that naturally accompany speech. In the second, the storyteller made semantically unrelated hand movements. In the third, the storyteller kept her hands still. In addition to inferior parietal and posterior superior and middle temporal regions, bilateral posterior superior temporal sulcus and left anterior inferior frontal gyrus responded more strongly to speech when it was further accompanied by gesture, regardless of the semantic relation to speech. However, the right inferior frontal gyrus was sensitive to the semantic import of the hand movements, demonstrating more activity when hand movements were semantically unrelated to the accompanying speech. These findings show that perceiving hand movements during speech modulates the distributed pattern of neural activation involved in both biological motion perception and discourse comprehension, suggesting listeners attempt to find meaning, not only in the words speakers produce, but also in the hand movements that accompany speech. Hum Brain Mapp, 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.