• causality;
  • dorsolateral prefrontal cortex;
  • humans;
  • relations;
  • semantic memory


The capacity to evaluate causal relations is fundamental to human cognition, and yet little is known of its neurocognitive underpinnings. A functional magnetic resonance imaging study was performed to investigate an hypothesized dissociation between the use of semantic knowledge to evaluate specifically causal relations in contrast to general associative relations. Identical pairs of words were judged for causal or associative relations in different blocks of trials. Causal judgments, beyond associative judgments, generated distinct activation in left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and right precuneus. These findings indicate that the evaluation of causal relations in semantic memory involves additional neural mechanisms relative to those required to evaluate associative relations.