Contrasting Semantic versus Inhibitory Processing in the Angular Gyrus: An fMRI Study

Gwyneth A. Lewis, David Poeppel, Gregory L. Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent studies of semantic memory have focused on dissociating the neural bases of two foundational components of human thought: taxonomic categories, which group similar objects like dogs and seals based on features, and thematic categories, which group dissimilar objects like dogs and leashes based on events. While there is emerging consensus that taxonomic concepts are represented in the anterior temporal lobe, there is disagreement over whether thematic concepts are represented in the angular gyrus (AG). We previously found AG sensitivity to both kinds of concepts; however, some accounts suggest that such activity reflects inhibition of irrelevant information rather than thematic activation. To test these possibilities, an fMRI experiment investigated both types of conceptual relations in the AG during two semantic judgment tasks. Each task trained participants to give negative responses (inhibition) or positive responses (activation) to word pairs based on taxonomic and thematic criteria of relatedness. Results showed AG engagement during both negative judgments and thematic judgments, but not during positive judgments about taxonomic pairs. Together, the results suggest that activity in the AG reflects functions that include both thematic (but not taxonomic) processing and inhibiting irrelevant semantic information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2470-2481
Number of pages12
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2019


  • angular gyrus
  • concepts
  • fMRI
  • taxonomic categories
  • thematic relations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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