A great deal of evidence suggests that reminders of mortality increase ingroup support and worldview defense, presumably in order to deal with the potential for anxiety that roots in the knowledge that death is inevitable. Interestingly, these effects are obtained solely when thoughts of death are not in the focus of consciousness. When conscious, death-related thoughts are usually defended against using proximal defenses, which entail distraction or suppression. The present study aimed at demonstrating neurophysiological correlates of proximal defenses. We focused on the late positive potential (LPP), which is thought to reflect an increased allocation of attention toward, and processing of, motivationally relevant stimuli. Our prediction was that the LPP should be increased for death-related relative to death-unrelated, but equally unpleasant stimulus words. In Experiment 1, this prediction was confirmed. This finding was replicated in Experiment 2, which used a target word detection task. In Experiment 2, both death-related and pleasant words elicited an enhanced LPP, presumably because during the less demanding task, people might have distracted themselves from the mortality reminders by focusing on pleasant words. To summarize, we were able to identify a plausible neurophysiological marker of proximal defenses in the form of an increased LPP to death-related words.
terror management theory; mortality salience; proximal defenses; ERP
It is an established finding that neuronal activity is decreased for repeated stimuli. Recent studies revealed that repetition suppression (RS) effects are altered by manipulating the probability with which stimuli are repeated. RS for faces is more pronounced when the probability of repetition is high than when it is low. This response pattern is interpreted with reference to the predictive coding (PC) account, which assumes that RS is influenced by top-down expectations. Recent findings challenge the generality of PC accounts of RS by showing repetition probability does not modulate RS for other visual stimuli than faces. However, a number of findings on visual processing are in line with PC. Thus, the influence of repetition probability on RS effects during object processing requires careful reinvestigations. In the present fMRI study, object pictures were presented in a high (75%) or low (25%) repetition probability context. We found increased RS in the high-probability context compared to the low-probability context in the left lateral occipital complex (LOC). The dorsal-caudal and the ventral-anterior subdivisions of the LOC revealed similar neuronal responses. These results indicate that repetition probability effects can be found for other visual objects than faces and provide evidence in favor of the PC account.
fMRI; lateral occipital complex; object processing; predictive coding; repetition suppression
Recovery of consciousness has been associated with connectivity in the frontal cortex and parietal regions modulated by the thalamus. To examine this model and to relate alterations to deficits in cognitive functioning and conscious processing, we investigated topological network properties in patients with chronic disorders of consciousness recovered from coma.
Resting state fMRI data of 34 patients with unresponsive wakefulness syndrome and 25 in minimally conscious state were compared to 28 healthy controls. We investigated global and local network characteristics. Additionally, behavioral measures were correlated with the local metrics of 28 regions within the fronto-parietal network and the thalamus.
In chronic disorders of consciousness, modularity at the global level was reduced suggesting a disturbance in the optimal balance between segregation and integration. Moreover, network properties were altered in several regions which are associated with conscious processing (particularly, in medial parietal, and frontal regions, as well as in the thalamus). Between minimally conscious and unconscious patients the local efficiency of medial parietal regions differed. Alterations in the thalamus were particularly evident in non-conscious patients. Most of the regions affected in patients with impaired consciousness belong to the so-called ‘rich club’ of highly interconnected central nodes. Disturbances in their topological characteristics have severe impact on information integration and are reflected in deficits in cognitive functioning probably leading to a total breakdown of consciousness.
•We investigated network properties in patients with a disorder of consciousness.•Patients showed reduced global modularity.•Alterations in regions of the rich club were related to impaired consciousness.•These alterations have severe impact on information integration and segregation.•Disturbances in overall integration may lead to breakdown of consciousness.
DOC, disorders of consciousness; ACC, anterior cingulate cortex; PCC, posterior cingulate cortex; MCS, minimally conscious state; VS/UWS, vegetative state/unresponsive wakefulness syndrome; Consciousness; Vegetative state; Network; Graph theory; Connectivity; Small world
Current research aims at identifying voluntary brain activation in patients who are behaviorally diagnosed as being unconscious, but are able to perform commands by modulating their brain activity patterns. This involves machine learning techniques and feature extraction methods such as applied in brain computer interfaces. In this study, we try to answer the question if features/classification methods which show advantages in healthy participants are also accurate when applied to data of patients with disorders of consciousness. A sample of healthy participants (N = 22), patients in a minimally conscious state (MCS; N = 5), and with unresponsive wakefulness syndrome (UWS; N = 9) was examined with a motor imagery task which involved imagery of moving both hands and an instruction to hold both hands firm. We extracted a set of 20 features from the electroencephalogram and used linear discriminant analysis, k-nearest neighbor classification, and support vector machines (SVM) as classification methods. In healthy participants, the best classification accuracies were seen with coherences (mean = .79; range = .53−.94) and power spectra (mean = .69; range = .40−.85). The coherence patterns in healthy participants did not match the expectation of central modulated -rhythm. Instead, coherence involved mainly frontal regions. In healthy participants, the best classification tool was SVM. Five patients had at least one feature-classifier outcome with p0.05 (none of which were coherence or power spectra), though none remained significant after false-discovery rate correction for multiple comparisons. The present work suggests the use of coherences in patients with disorders of consciousness because they show high reliability among healthy subjects and patient groups. However, feature extraction and classification is a challenging task in unresponsive patients because there is no ground truth to validate the results.
The active oddball paradigm is a candidate task for voluntary brain activation. Previous research has focused on group effects, and has largely overlooked the potential problem of interindividual differences. Interindividual variance causes problems with the interpretation of group-level results. In this study we want to demonstrate the degree of consistency in the active oddball task across subjects, in order to answer the question of whether this task is able to reliably detect conscious target processing in unresponsive patients. We asked 18 subjects to count rare targets and to ignore frequent standards and rare distractors in an auditory active oddball task. Event-related-potentials (ERPs) and time-frequency data were analyzed with permutation-t-tests on a single subject level. We plotted the group-average ERPs and time-frequency data, and evaluated the numbers of subjects showing significant differences between targets and distractors in certain time-ranges. The distinction between targets/distractors and standards was found to be significant in the time-range of the P300 in all participants. In contrast, significant differences between targets and distractors in the time-range of the P3a/b were found in 8 subjects, only. By including effects in the N1 and in a late negative component there remained 2 subjects who did not show a distinction between targets and distractors in the ERP. While time-frequency data showed prominent effects for target/distractor vs. standard, significant differences between targets and distractors were found in 2 subjects, only. The results suggest that time-frequency- and ERP-analysis of the active oddball task may not be sensitive enough to detect voluntary brain activation in unresponsive patients. In addition, we found that time-frequency analysis was even less informative than ERPs about the subject’s task performance. Despite suggesting the use of more sensitive paradigms and/or analysis techniques, the present results give further evidence that electroencephalographic research should rely more strongly on single-subject analysis because interpretations of group-effects may be misleading.
Counterfactual thinking is ubiquitous in everyday life and an important aspect of cognition and emotion. Although counterfactual thought has been argued to differ from processing factual or hypothetical information, imaging data which elucidate these differences on a neural level are still scarce. We investigated the neural correlates of processing counterfactual sentences under visual and aural presentation. We compared conditionals in subjunctive mood which explicitly contradicted previously presented facts (i.e. counterfactuals) to conditionals framed in indicative mood which did not contradict factual world knowledge and thus conveyed a hypothetical supposition. Our results show activation in right occipital cortex (cuneus) and right basal ganglia (caudate nucleus) during counterfactual sentence processing. Importantly the occipital activation is not only present under visual presentation but also with purely auditory stimulus presentation, precluding a visual processing artifact. Thus our results can be interpreted as reflecting the fact that counterfactual conditionals pragmatically imply the relevance of keeping in mind both factual and supposed information whereas the hypothetical conditionals imply that real world information is irrelevant for processing the conditional and can be omitted. The need to sustain representations of factual and suppositional events during counterfactual sentence processing requires increased mental imagery and integration efforts. Our findings are compatible with predictions based on mental model theory.
► Neural correlates of processing counterfactual conditionals were investigated. ► We presented sentences in auditory and visual modality. ► Counterfactuals show stronger activations in cuneus and caudate nucleus. ► The findings are consistent with predictions based on mental model theory.
Counterfactual thinking; Conditionals; Subjunctive mood; Indicative mood; fMRI
It has been debated for several decades, whether number magnitudes are processed global/holistically (whole number magnitudes) or in a local/decomposed fashion (digit magnitudes). However, while it has been suggested that men attend stronger to the global level, while women attend stronger to the local level, the question has never been studied with regards to sex differences. In two-digit number comparison men should engage a more holistic processing strategy, while women should engage a more decomposed strategy. To test this hypothesis, we employed number comparison stimuli of varying decade crossing and unit-decade compatibility in men (n = 16) and women (n = 16) during their early follicular and mid-luteal cycle phase. In within-decade (WD) items both numbers had the same decade digits. Non-WD items were unit-decade-compatible, if the smaller number contained the smaller unit-digit and incompatible otherwise. In incompatible items the two local features require different responses. Thus, processing of the local level should result in a compatibility effect in RT and recruitment of differential neural networks for compatible and incompatible items. The results support the view of a holistic strategy in men and a decomposed strategy in women. In men RT and BOLD-response did not differ for incompatible compared to compatible items. Women respond slower to incompatible compared to compatible items. They show a BOLD-response compatibility effect in regions of the default mode network during their follicular phase and in prefrontal areas involved in inhibitory control during their luteal phase. Furthermore, lateralization indices interacted with decade crossing and menstrual cycle phase in a way consistent with the hypothesis of progesterone-mediated interhemispheric decoupling.
Self-related stimuli activate anterior parts of cortical midline regions, which normally show task-induced deactivation. Deactivation in medial posterior and frontal regions is associated with the ability to focus attention on the demands of the task, and therefore, with consciousness. Studies investigating patients with impaired consciousness, that is, patients in minimally conscious state and patients with unresponsive wakefulness syndrome (formerly vegetative state), demonstrate that these patients show responses to self-related content in the anterior cingulate cortex. However, it remains unclear if these responses are an indication for conscious processing of stimuli or are due to automatic processing. To shed further light on this issue, we investigated responses of cortical midline regions to the own and another name in 27 patients with a disorder of consciousness and compared them to task-induced deactivation. While almost all of the control subjects responding to the own name demonstrated higher activation due to the self-related content in anterior midline regions and additional deactivation, none of the responding patients did so. Differences between groups showed a similar pattern of findings. Despite the relation between behavioral responsiveness in patients and activation in response to the own name, the findings of this study do not provide evidence for a direct association of activation in anterior midline regions and conscious processing. The deficits in processing of self-referential content in anterior midline regions may rather be due to general impairments in cognitive processing and not particularly linked to impaired consciousness.
consciousness; vegetative state; self; anterior cingulate; default network
The present fMRI study investigated the effects of word-likeness of visual and auditory stimuli on activity along the ventral visual stream. In the context of a one-back task, we presented visual and auditory words, pseudowords, and artificial stimuli (i.e., false-fonts and reversed-speech, respectively). Main findings were regionally specific effects of word-likeness on activation in a left ventral occipitotemporal region corresponding to the classic localization of the Visual Word Form Area (VWFA). Specifically, we found an inverse word-likeness effect for the visual stimuli in the form of decreased activation for words compared to pseudowords which, in turn, elicited decreased activation compared to the artificial stimuli. For the auditory stimuli, we found positive word-likeness effects as both words and pseudowords elicited more activation than the artificial stimuli. This resulted from a marked deactivation in response to the artificial stimuli and no such deactivation for words and pseudowords. We suggest that the opposite effects of visual and auditory word-likeness on VWFA activation can be explained by assuming the involvement of visual orthographic memory representations. For the visual stimuli, these representations reduce the coding effort as a function of word-likeness. This results in highest activation to the artificial stimuli and least activation to words for which corresponding representations exist. The positive auditory word-likeness effects may result from activation of orthographic information associated with the auditory words and pseudowords. The view that the VWFA has a primarily visual function is supported by our findings of high activation to the visual artificial stimuli (which have no phonological or semantic associations) and deactivation to the auditory artificial stimuli. According to the phenomenon of cross-modal sensory suppression such deactivations during demanding auditory processing are expected in visual regions.
fMRI; neuroimaging; one-back task; word-likeness; word processing; VWFA; orthographic representations
Functional neuroimaging studies of pathological gambling (PG) demonstrate alterations in frontal and subcortical regions of the mesolimbic reward system. However, most investigations were performed using tasks involving reward processing or executive functions. Little is known about brain network abnormalities during task-free resting state in PG. In the present study, graph-theoretical methods were used to investigate network properties of resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging data in PG. We compared 19 patients with PG to 19 healthy controls (HCs) using the Graph Analysis Toolbox (GAT). None of the examined global metrics differed between groups. At the nodal level, pathological gambler showed a reduced clustering coefficient in the left paracingulate cortex and the left juxtapositional lobe (supplementary motor area, SMA), reduced local efficiency in the left SMA, as well as an increased node betweenness for the left and right paracingulate cortex and the left SMA. At an uncorrected threshold level, the node betweenness in the left inferior frontal gyrus was decreased and increased in the caudate. Additionally, increased functional connectivity between fronto-striatal regions and within frontal regions has also been found for the gambling patients. These findings suggest that regions associated with the reward system demonstrate reduced segregation but enhanced integration while regions associated with executive functions demonstrate reduced integration. The present study makes evident that PG is also associated with abnormalities in the topological network structure of the brain during rest. Since alterations in PG cannot be explained by direct effects of abused substances on the brain, these findings will be of relevance for understanding functional connectivity in other addictive disorders.
fMRI; graph theory; network; connectivity; pathological gambling; reward; behavioral addiction; small world
Diagnosis of patients with a disorder of consciousness is very challenging. Previous studies investigating resting state networks demonstrate that 2 main features of the so-called default mode network (DMN), metabolism and functional connectivity, are impaired in patients with a disorder of consciousness. However, task-induced deactivation – a third main feature of the DMN – has not been explored in a group of patients. Deactivation of the DMN is supposed to reflect interruptions of introspective processes. Seventeen patients with unresponsive wakefulness syndrome (UWS, former vegetative state), 8 patients in minimally conscious state (MCS), and 25 healthy controls were investigated with functional magnetic resonance imaging during a passive sentence listening task. Results show that deactivation in medial regions is reduced in MCS and absent in UWS patients compared to healthy controls. Moreover, behavioral scores assessing the level of consciousness correlate with deactivation in patients. On single-subject level, all control subjects but only 2 patients in MCS and 6 with UWS exposed deactivation. Interestingly, all patients who deactivated during speech processing (except for one) showed activation in left frontal regions which are associated with conscious processing. Our results indicate that deactivation of the DMN can be associated with the level of consciousness by selecting those who are able to interrupt ongoing introspective processes. In consequence, deactivation of the DMN may function as a marker of consciousness.
This study examined functional brain abnormalities in dyslexic German readers who – due to the regularity of German in the reading direction – do not exhibit the reading accuracy problem of English dyslexic readers, but suffer primarily from a reading speed problem. The in-scanner task required phonological lexical decisions (i.e., Does xxx sound like an existing word?) and presented familiar and unfamiliar letter strings of existing phonological words (e.g., Taxi-Taksi) together with nonwords (e.g., Tazi). Dyslexic readers exhibited the same response latency pattern (words < pseudohomophones < nonwords) as nonimpaired readers, but latencies to all item types were much prolonged. The imaging results were suggestive for a different neural organization of reading processes in dyslexic readers. Specifically, dyslexic readers, in response to lexical route processes, exhibited underactivation in a left ventral occipitotemporal region which presumably is engaged by visual-orthographic whole word recognition. This region was also insensitive to the increased visual-orthographic processing demands of the sublexical route. Reduced engagement in response to sublexical route processes was also found in a left inferior parietal region, presumably engaged by attentional processes, and in a left inferior frontal region, presumably engaged by phonological processes. In contrast to this reduced engagement of the optimal left hemisphere reading network (ventral OT, inferior parietal, inferior frontal), our dyslexic readers exhibited increased engagement of visual occipital regions and of regions presumably engaged by silent articulatory processes (premotor/motor cortex and subcortical caudate and putamen).
The importance of the left occipitotemporal cortex for visual word processing is highlighted by numerous functional neuroimaging studies, but the precise function of the Visual Word Form Area (VWFA) in this brain region is still under debate. The present fMRI study varied orthographic familiarity independent from phonological-semantic familiarity by presenting orthographically familiar and orthographically unfamiliar forms (pseudohomophones) of the same words in a phonological lexical decision task. Consistent with orthographic word recognition in the VWFA, we found lower activation for familiar compared to unfamiliar forms, but no difference between pseudohomophones and pseudowords. This orthographic familiarity effect in the VWFA differed from the phonological familiarity effect in left frontal regions, where phonologically unfamiliar pseudowords led to higher activation than phonologically familiar pseudohomophones. We suggest that the VWFA not only computes letter string representations but also hosts word specific orthographic representations. These representations function as recognition units with the effect that letter strings, which readily match with stored representations lead to less activation than letter strings which do not.
Functional MRI; orthographic word recognition; visual word processing; occipitotemporal cortex; reading
Based on our previous work, we expected the Visual Word Form Area (VWFA) in the left ventral visual pathway to be engaged by both whole-word recognition and by serial sublexical coding of letter strings. To examine this double function, a phonological lexical decision task (i.e., “Does xxx sound like an existing word?”) presented short and long letter strings of words, pseudohomophones, and pseudowords (e.g., Taxi, Taksi and Tazi). Main findings were that the length effect for words was limited to occipital regions and absent in the VWFA. In contrast, a marked length effect for pseudowords was found throughout the ventral visual pathway including the VWFA, as well as in regions presumably engaged by visual attention and silent-articulatory processes. The length by lexicality interaction on brain activation corresponds to well-established behavioral findings of a length by lexicality interaction on naming latencies and speaks for the engagement of the VWFA by both lexical and sublexical processes.
This study used foci from 17 original studies on functional abnormalities in the dyslexic brain to identify brain regions with consistent under- or overactivation. Studies were included when reading or reading-related tasks were performed on visually presented stimuli and when results reported coordinates for group differences. Activation Likelihood Estimation (ALE) was used for quantification. Maxima of underactivation were found in inferior parietal, superior temporal, middle and inferior temporal and fusiform regions of the left hemisphere. With respect to left frontal abnormalities we found underactivation in the inferior frontal gyrus to be accompanied by overactivation in the primary motor cortex and the anterior insula. Tentative functional interpretations of the activation abnormalities are provided.
Dyslexia; Reading; Magnetic Resonance Imaging; Positron-Emission Tomography; Cerebral Cortex
This fMRI study contrasted case-deviant and letter-deviant forms with familiar forms of the same phonological words (e.g., TaXi and Taksi vs. Taxi) and found, that both types of deviance led to increased activation in a left occipitotemporal region corresponding to the Visual Word Form Area. Case-deviant items, in addition, led to increased activation in a right occipitotemporal region and in a left occipital and a left posterior occipitotemporal region, possibly reflecting the increased demands on letter form coding. For letter-deviant items, in addition to the increased left occipitotemporal activation, a main finding was increased activation primarily in extended left frontal regions, possibly reflecting sublexically mediated access to word phonology. These findings are consistent with general features of cognitive dual-route models of visual word processing. Furthermore, they add support to the main feature of Dehaene et al.’s (2005) neural model of early stages of visual word processing . However, the increased activation found for case-deviant items in the VWFA cannot be immediately reconciled with the assumption of completely abstract case-independent orthographic word codes in the VWFA.
Functional MRI; visual word recognition; occipitotemporal cortex; visual word form area; orthographic processing
This study examined functional brain abnormalities in dyslexic German readers who – due to the regularity of German in the reading direction – do not exhibit the reading accuracy problem of English dyslexic readers, but suffer primarily from a reading speed problem. The in-scanner task required phonological lexical decisions (i.e., Does xxx sound like an existing word?) and presented familiar and unfamiliar letter strings of existing phonological words (e.g., Taxi-Taksi) together with nonwords (e.g., Tazi). Dyslexic readers exhibited the same response latency pattern (words < pseudohomophones < nonwords) as nonimpaired readers, but latencies to all item types were much prolonged. The imaging results were suggestive for a different neural organization of reading processes in dyslexic readers. Specifically, dyslexic readers, in response to lexical route processes, exhibited underactivation in a left ventral occipitotemporal (OT) region which presumably is engaged by visual-orthographic whole word recognition. This region was also insensitive to the increased visual-orthographic processing demands of the sublexical route. Reduced engagement in response to sublexical route processes was also found in a left inferior parietal region, presumably engaged by attentional processes, and in a left inferior frontal region, presumably engaged by phonological processes. In contrast to this reduced engagement of the optimal left hemisphere reading network (ventral OT, inferior parietal, inferior frontal), our dyslexic readers exhibited increased engagement of visual occipital regions and of regions presumably engaged by silent articulatory processes (premotor/motor cortex and subcortical caudate and putamen).
Developmental dyslexia; fMRI; Reading; Phonological lexical decision; Dual-route
We used fMRI to examine functional brain abnormalities of German-speaking dyslexics who suffer from slow effortful reading but not from a reading accuracy problem. Similar to acquired cases of letter-by-letter reading, the developmental cases exhibited an abnormal strong effect of length (i.e., number of letters) on response time for words and pseudowords.
Corresponding to lesions of left occipito-temporal (OT) regions in acquired cases, we found a dysfunction of this region in our developmental cases who failed to exhibit responsiveness of left OT regions to the length of words and pseudowords. This abnormality in the left OT cortex was accompanied by absent responsiveness to increased sublexical reading demands in phonological inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) regions. Interestingly, there was no abnormality in the left superior temporal cortex which—corresponding to the onological deficit explanation—is considered to be the prime locus of the reading difficulties of developmental dyslexia cases.
The present functional imaging results suggest that developmental dyslexia similar to acquired letter-by-letter reading is due to a primary dysfunction of left OT regions.