Cereb Cortex. 2014 Feb 20. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhu022. [Epub ahead of print]

Neural Correlates of Subliminal Language Processing

Axelrod V, Bar M, Rees G, Yovel G.


Language is a high-level cognitive function, so exploring the neural correlates of unconscious language processing is essential for understanding the limits of unconscious processing in general. The results of several functional magnetic resonance imaging studies have suggested that unconscious lexical and semantic processing is confined to the posterior temporal lobe, without involvement of the frontal lobe-the regions that are indispensable for conscious language processing. However, previous studies employed a similarly designed masked priming paradigm with briefly presented single and contextually unrelated words. It is thus possible, that the stimulation level was insufficiently strong to be detected in the high-level frontal regions. Here, in a high-resolution fMRI and multivariate pattern analysis study we explored the neural correlates of subliminal language processing using a novel paradigm, where written meaningful sentences were suppressed from awareness for extended duration using continuous flash suppression. We found that subjectively and objectively invisible meaningful sentences and unpronounceable nonwords could be discriminated not only in the left posterior superior temporal sulcus (STS), but critically, also in the left middle frontal gyrus. We conclude that frontal lobes play a role in unconscious language processing and that activation of the frontal lobes per se might not be sufficient for achieving conscious awareness.

PMID: 24557638