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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

February 15, 2002, Vol. 14, No. 2, Pages 228-242
(doi: 10.1162/089892902317236867)
© 2002 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Discourse Representation in the Two Cerebral Hemispheres
Article PDF (138.85 KB)

Readers construct at least two interrelated representations when they comprehend a text: (a) a propositional representation containing the individual ideas that are derived from each sentence and the relations among them and (b) a discourse model, a representation of the context or situation to which the text refers. We used a paradigm called “item priming in recognition” to examine how these representations are stored in the cerebral hemispheres. In Experiment 1, the priming paradigm was used in combination with a lateralized visual field (VF) procedure. We found evidence that readers' representations were structured according to propositional relations, but only in the left hemisphere. Item recognition was facilitated when a concept was preceded by another concept from the same proposition when targets were presented to the left, but not to the right, hemisphere. We found priming in both hemispheres, however, when targets were context-appropriate senses of ambiguous words or topics of passages. In Experiment 2, we replicated the priming effects in three callosotomy patients. We argue that the distinction between a propositional representation and a discourse model is important with respect to how discourse is represented in the brain. The propositional representation appears to reside in the left hemisphere, whereas aspects of the discourse model appear to be represented in both hemispheres.