Title: fMRI reveals language-specific predictive coding during naturalistic sentence comprehension
Abstract: Much research in cognitive neuroscience supports prediction as a canonical computation of cognition in many domains. Is such predictive coding implemented by feedback from higher-order domain-general circuits, or is it locally implemented in domain-specific circuits? What information sources are used to generate these predictions? This study addresses these two questions in the context of language processing. We present fMRI evidence from a naturalistic comprehension paradigm (1) that predictive coding in the brain’s response to language is domain-specific, and (2) that these predictions are sensitive both to local word co-occurrence patterns and to hierarchical structure. Using a recently developed continuous-time deconvolutional regression technique that supports data-driven hemodynamic response function discovery from continuous BOLD signal fluctuations in response to naturalistic stimuli, we found we found effects of prediction measures in the language network but not in the domain-general, multiple-demand network. Moreover, within the language network, surface-level and structural prediction effects were separable. The predictability effects in the language network were substantial, with the model capturing over 37% of explainable variance on held-out data. These findings indicate that human sentence processing mechanisms generate predictions about upcoming words using cognitive processes that are sensitive to hierarchical structure and specialized for language processing, rather than via feedback from high-level executive control mechanisms.