fMRI methods for studying the neurobiology of language under naturalistic conditions

Michael Andric, Steven L. Small

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

6 Scopus citations


People ordinarily use language in complex, continuously occurring contexts. These contexts include rich and varied sources of information that can combine and exert shared influence. A common example is face-to-face conversation. When two people talk in person, there is not only spoken auditory information, but also visual information from facial and manual movements, as well as from the surrounding environment in which the conversation takes place. There may also be endogenous signals that a person experiences in context, such as memories relating prior conversations with a given speaker. In short, it is typical that a person mediates multiple multifaceted information sources when using language. By contrast, fMRI studies of the neurobiology of language often use conditions that present only features of language in isolation. In large part, this is because researchers need rigorous, reliable experimental protocols that minimize potential sources of variance (“noise”) not directly relating a feature of interest. But such traditional protocols also often minimize, if not eliminate, the way people actually know and use language in their naturalistic, “everyday” experience. Thus, a fundamental challenge for researchers studying the neurobiology of language is to understand brain function as it might occur in typical experience. In this chapter, we highlight some available approaches that can address this challenge using fMRI. With specific examples, we discuss the importance of context and ways to incorporate it in understanding brain function when people process language under more naturalistic conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCognitive Neuroscience of Natural Language Use
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781107323667
ISBN (Print)9781107042018
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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