Event Abstract

Localizing the Auditory Syntactic Mismatch Negativity Using Whole Head Magnetoencephalography

  • 1 Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Germany

Recent auditory oddball studies using syntactic stimuli report a syntactic effect on the mismatch negativity (sMMN) around 100 - 250 ms. More specifically, these studies compare morphosyntactic violations versus correct word pairs and localize the sMMN in the left superior temporal cortex. Independently, a recent visual sentence processing study introduced a "sensory hypothesis" of syntax processing which postulates that early syntax-related processes have their origin in sensory cortex. We intended to extend these previous findings by localizing the neuronal sources of the sMMN to phrase structure violations, and by testing the sensory hypothesis in the auditory modality using whole head magnetoencephalography. Two-word phrases which were syntactically correct, syntactically uncommon or included a word category violation were presented in an auditory oddball paradigm.
The noun ‘plan’ and the inflected verb ‘plant’ were placed in a context with either a pronoun ‘er’, a preposition ‘am’ or a determiner ‘der’ resulting in six different stimuli. Within a single recording block only stimuli of the same context were presented, e.g. ‘am Plan’ and ‘am plant’. Hence, syntactic structures were always disambiguated at the end of each stimulus. 20 subjects were recorded in two sessions each comprising six blocks. All data sets were first corrected for subjects´ head movements via the Maxfilter® algorithm and bandpass filtered (1 to 20 Hz). Averages were computed for each of the six conditions time-locked to word category decision point, which is onset of the suffix ‘t’ for the verb. The noun did not elicit strong evoked responses. As a consequence, there were neither significant differences between conditions nor could the activity be localized. The verb conditions, however, produced rather prominent evoked field changes.
In the sMMNm time window, incorrect phrases elicited strongest activation in the left Sylvian fissure (including the primary auditory cortex) and in the left superior temporal sulcus. In addition, a very early grammaticality effect, most pronounced in the left Sylvian fissure, was found around 60 ms. In a later time window, activation was observed in the anterior part of the superior temporal gyrus, the planum polare. Processing of an uncommon phrase did not differ from processing of a correct phrase in any of the time windows, indicating the genuinely grammatical nature of the sMMN effect. Our results complement previous studies localizing the sMMN to morphosyntactic violations. Furthermore, they support the hypothesis that early syntax processing, when marked morphologically is effected in the sensory cortices already.

Conference: MMN 09 Fifth Conference on Mismatch Negativity (MMN) and its Clinical and Scientific Applications, Budapest, Hungary, 4 Apr - 7 Apr, 2009.

Presentation Type: Poster Presentation

Topic: Poster Presentations

Citation: Maess B, Herrmann B, Hasting AS and Friederici A (2009). Localizing the Auditory Syntactic Mismatch Negativity Using Whole Head Magnetoencephalography. Conference Abstract: MMN 09 Fifth Conference on Mismatch Negativity (MMN) and its Clinical and Scientific Applications. doi: 10.3389/conf.neuro.09.2009.05.096

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Received: 26 Mar 2009; Published Online: 26 Mar 2009.

* Correspondence: Burkhard Maess, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany, maess@cbs.mpg.de