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Concept: Inferior frontal gyrus


Humans form beliefs asymmetrically; we tend to discount bad news but embrace good news. This reduced impact of unfavorable information on belief updating may have important societal implications, including the generation of financial market bubbles, ill preparedness in the face of natural disasters, and overly aggressive medical decisions. Here, we selectively improved people’s tendency to incorporate bad news into their beliefs by disrupting the function of the left (but not right) inferior frontal gyrus using transcranial magnetic stimulation, thereby eliminating the engrained “good news/bad news effect.” Our results provide an instance of how selective disruption of regional human brain function paradoxically enhances the ability to incorporate unfavorable information into beliefs of vulnerability.

Concepts: Neuroanatomy, Brain, Natural selection, Human brain, Frontal lobe, Transcranial magnetic stimulation, Religion, Inferior frontal gyrus


Both situational (e.g., perceived power) and sustained social factors (e.g., cultural stereotypes) are known to affect how people academically perform, particularly in the domain of mathematics. The ability to compute even simple mathematics, such as addition, relies on distinct neural circuitry within the inferior parietal and inferior frontal lobes, brain regions where magnitude representation and addition are performed. Despite prior behavioral evidence of social influence on academic performance, little is known about whether or not temporarily heightening a person’s sense of power may influence the neural bases of math calculation. Here we primed female participants with either high or low power (LP) and then measured neural response while they performed exact and approximate math problems. We found that priming power affected math performance; specifically, females primed with high power (HP) performed better on approximate math calculation compared to females primed with LP. Furthermore, neural response within the left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), a region previously associated with cognitive interference, was reduced for females in the HP compared to LP group. Taken together, these results indicate that even temporarily heightening a person’s sense of social power can increase their math performance, possibly by reducing cognitive interference during math performance.

Concepts: Psychology, Mathematics, Human brain, Cerebrum, Perception, Performance, Frontal lobe, Inferior frontal gyrus


Stopping is a critical aspect of brain function. Like other voluntary actions, it is defined by its context as much as by its execution. Its neural substrate must therefore reflect both. Here, we distinguish those elements of the underlying brain circuit that preferentially reflect contextual aspects of stopping from those related to its execution. Contextual complexity of stopping was modulated using a novel “Stop/Change-signal” task, which also allowed us to parameterize the duration of the stopping process. Human magnetoencephalographic activity and behavioral responses were simultaneously recorded. Whereas theta/alpha frequency activity in the right inferior frontal gyrus was most closely associated with the duration of the stopping process, earlier gamma frequency activity in the pre-supplementary motor area was unique in showing contextual modulation. These results differentiate the roles of 2 key frontal regions involved in stopping, a crucial aspect of behavioral control.

Concepts: Psychology, Neuroanatomy, Cerebrum, Systems theory, Phase, Inferior frontal gyrus, 2007 albums, Key


Cognitive models claim that spoken words are recognized by an optimally efficient sequential analysis process. Evidence for this is the finding that nonwords are recognized as soon as they deviate from all real words (Marslen-Wilson 1984), reflecting continuous evaluation of speech inputs against lexical representations. Here, we investigate the brain mechanisms supporting this core aspect of word recognition and examine the processes of competition and selection among multiple word candidates. Based on new behavioral support for optimal efficiency in lexical access from speech, a functional magnetic resonance imaging study showed that words with later nonword points generated increased activation in the left superior and middle temporal gyrus (Brodmann area [BA] 21/22), implicating these regions in dynamic sound-meaning mapping. We investigated competition and selection by manipulating the number of initially activated word candidates (competition) and their later drop-out rate (selection). Increased lexical competition enhanced activity in bilateral ventral inferior frontal gyrus (BA 47/45), while increased lexical selection demands activated bilateral dorsal inferior frontal gyrus (BA 44/45). These findings indicate functional differentiation of the fronto-temporal systems for processing spoken language, with left middle temporal gyrus (MTG) and superior temporal gyrus (STG) involved in mapping sounds to meaning, bilateral ventral inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) engaged in less constrained early competition processing, and bilateral dorsal IFG engaged in later, more fine-grained selection processes.

Concepts: Brain, Magnetic resonance imaging, Cerebrum, Superior temporal gyrus, Language, Word, Inferior frontal gyrus, Lexeme


Disambiguation refers to the ability to interpret ambiguous information in a sensible way, which is important in an ever-changing external environment. Disambiguation occurs when prior knowledge is given before an ambiguous stimulus is presented. For example, labeling a series of meaningless blobs as a “human body” can change the observer’s perception. The aim of this experiment was to study the neural circuitry underlying disambiguation caused by prior knowledge. We presented to participants a series of meaningless blobs with different contextual information. As participants performed this task, we used magnetoencephalography to map the brain areas that were activated when participants perceived blobs as a human body. The participants were presented identical sets of blob stimuli, and were instructed that a human body would appear more frequently in the “high body” condition than in the “low body” condition. We found the blob stimuli were more frequently perceived as the human body when they were presented in the “high body” condition. Such contextual modulation correlated with activity in the extrastriate body area (EBA) and the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG). Furthermore, we observed that IFG activation preceded EBA activation. These findings suggest that top-down processing in the IFG plays a role in disambiguating ambiguous information and modifying an individual’s perceptions.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognition, Perception, Sense, Mind, Human body, Inferior frontal gyrus, The Blob


There is evidence to suggest that successful lying necessitates cognitive effort. We tested this hypothesis by instructing participants to lie or tell the truth under conditions of high and low working memory (WM) load. The task required participants to register a response on 80 trials of identical structure within a 2 (WM Load: high, low) × 2 (Instruction: truth or lie) repeated-measures design. Participants were less accurate and responded more slowly when WM load was high, and also when they lied. High WM load activated the fronto-parietal WM network including dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (PFC), middle frontal gyrus, precuneus, and intraparietal cortex. Lying activated areas previously shown to underlie deception, including middle and superior frontal gyrus and precuneus. Critically, successful lying in the high vs. low WM load condition was associated with longer response latency, and it activated the right inferior frontal gyrus-a key brain region regulating inhibition. The same pattern of activation in the inferior frontal gyrus was absent when participants told the truth. These findings demonstrate that lying under high cognitive load places a burden on inhibition, and that the right inferior frontal gyrus may provide a neural marker for successful lying.

Concepts: Brain, Cerebrum, Attention versus memory in prefrontal cortex, Frontal lobe, Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, Inferior frontal gyrus, Working memory, Lie


For over a century neuroscientists have debated the dynamics by which human cortical language networks allow words to be spoken. Although it is widely accepted that Broca’s area in the left inferior frontal gyrus plays an important role in this process, it was not possible, until recently, to detail the timing of its recruitment relative to other language areas, nor how it interacts with these areas during word production. Using direct cortical surface recordings in neurosurgical patients, we studied the evolution of activity in cortical neuronal populations, as well as the Granger causal interactions between them. We found that, during the cued production of words, a temporal cascade of neural activity proceeds from sensory representations of words in temporal cortex to their corresponding articulatory gestures in motor cortex. Broca’s area mediates this cascade through reciprocal interactions with temporal and frontal motor regions. Contrary to classic notions of the role of Broca’s area in speech, while motor cortex is activated during spoken responses, Broca’s area is surprisingly silent. Moreover, when novel strings of articulatory gestures must be produced in response to nonword stimuli, neural activity is enhanced in Broca’s area, but not in motor cortex. These unique data provide evidence that Broca’s area coordinates the transformation of information across large-scale cortical networks involved in spoken word production. In this role, Broca’s area formulates an appropriate articulatory code to be implemented by motor cortex.

Concepts: Brain, Cerebral cortex, Cerebrum, Wernicke's area, Language, Frontal lobe, Inferior frontal gyrus, Broca's area


During a dyadic social interaction, two individuals can share visual attention through gaze, directed to each other (mutual gaze) or to a third person or an object (joint attention). Shared attention is fundamental to dyadic face-to-face interaction, but how attention is shared, retained, and neutrally represented in a pair-specific manner has not been well studied. Here, we conducted a two-day hyperscanning functional magnetic resonance imaging study in which pairs of participants performed a real-time mutual gaze task followed by a joint attention task on the first day, and mutual gaze tasks several days later. The joint attention task enhanced eye-blink synchronization, which is believed to be a behavioral index of shared attention. When the same participant pairs underwent mutual gaze without joint attention on the second day, enhanced eye-blink synchronization persisted, and this was positively correlated with inter-individual neural synchronization within the right inferior frontal gyrus. Neural synchronization was also positively correlated with enhanced eye-blink synchronization during the previous joint attention task session. Consistent with the Hebbian association hypothesis, the right inferior frontal gyrus had been activated both by initiating and responding to joint attention. These results indicate that shared attention is represented and retained by pair-specific neural synchronization that cannot be reduced to the individual level.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Nuclear magnetic resonance, Neuroscience, Magnetic resonance imaging, Cultural studies, Individual, Inferior frontal gyrus


We examined with functional magnetic resonance imaging the brain activity of 12 supernatural believers and 11 skeptics who first imagined themselves in critical life situations (e.g. problems in intimate relationships) and then watched emotionally charged pictures of lifeless objects and scenery (e.g. two red cherries bound together). Supernatural believers reported seeing signs of how the situations were going to turn out in the pictures more often than skeptics did. Viewing the pictures activated the same brain regions among all participants (e.g. the left inferior frontal gyrus, IFG). However, the right IFG, previously associated with cognitive inhibition, was activated more strongly in skeptics than in supernatural believers, and its activation was negatively correlated to sign seeing in both participant groups. We discuss the implications of these findings for research on the universal processes that may underlie supernatural beliefs and the role of cognitive inhibition in explaining individual differences in such beliefs.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Brain tumor, Magnetic resonance imaging, Cerebrum, Electroencephalography, Interpersonal relationship, Inferior frontal gyrus


Individuals who have experienced chronic and high levels of stress during their childhoods are at increased risk for a wide range of behavioral problems, yet the neurobiological mechanisms underlying this association are poorly understood. We measured the life circumstances of a community sample of school-aged children and then followed these children for a decade. Those from the highest and lowest quintiles of childhood stress exposure were invited to return to our laboratory as young adults, at which time we reassessed their life circumstances, acquired fMRI data during a reward-processing task, and tested their judgment and decision making. Individuals who experienced high levels of early life stress showed lower levels of brain activation when processing cues signaling potential loss and increased responsivity when actually experiencing losses. Specifically, those with high childhood stress had reduced activation in the posterior cingulate/precuneus, middle temporal gyrus, and superior occipital cortex during the anticipation of potential rewards; reduced activation in putamen and insula during the anticipation of potential losses; and increased left inferior frontal gyrus activation when experiencing an actual loss. These patterns of brain activity were associated with both laboratory and real-world measures of individuals' risk taking in adulthood. Importantly, these effects were predicated only by childhood stress exposure and not by current levels of life stress.

Concepts: Risk, Human brain, Cerebral cortex, Decision theory, Cerebrum, Electroencephalography, Childhood, Inferior frontal gyrus