The Anterior Midline Field: Coercion or decision making?

Liina Pylkkänen, Andrea E. Martin, Brian McElree, Andrew Smart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To study the neural bases of semantic composition in language processing without confounds from syntactic composition, recent magnetoencephalography (MEG) studies have investigated the processing of constructions that exhibit some type of syntax-semantics mismatch. The most studied case of such a mismatch is complement coercion; expressions such as the author began the book, where an entity-denoting noun phrase is coerced into an eventive meaning in order to match the semantic properties of the event-selecting verb (e.g., 'the author began reading/writing the book'). These expressions have been found to elicit increased activity in the Anterior Midline Field (AMF), an MEG component elicited at frontomedial sensors at ∼400 ms after the onset of the coercing noun [Pylkkänen, L., & McElree, B. (2007). An MEG study of silent meaning. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 19, 11]. Thus, the AMF constitutes a potential neural correlate of coercion. However, the AMF was generated in ventromedial prefrontal regions, which are heavily associated with decision-making. This raises the possibility that, instead of semantic processing, the AMF effect may have been related to the experimental task, which was a sensicality judgment. We tested this hypothesis by assessing the effect of coercion when subjects were simply reading for comprehension, without a decision-task. Additionally, we investigated coercion in an adjectival rather than a verbal environment to further generalize the findings. Our results show that an AMF effect of coercion is elicited without a decision-task and that the effect also extends to this novel syntactic environment. We conclude that in addition to its role in non-linguistic higher cognition, ventromedial prefrontal regions contribute to the resolution of syntax-semantics mismatches in language processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)184-190
Number of pages7
JournalBrain and Language
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2009


  • Anterior midline field
  • Coercion
  • Decision making
  • MEG
  • Semantic processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Speech and Hearing


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