2014-stolk-cortex

Despite the ambiguity inherent in human communication, people are remarkably efficient in establishing mutual understanding. Studying how people communicate in novel settings provides a window into the mechanisms supporting the human competence to rapidly generate and understand novel shared symbols, a fundamental property of human communication. Previous work indicates that the right posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) is involved when people understand the intended meaning of novel communicative actions. Here, we set out to test whether normal functioning of this cerebral structure is required for understanding novel communicative actions using inhibitory low-frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). A factorial experimental design con- trasted two tightly matched stimulation sites (right pSTS vs left MTþ, i.e., a contiguous homotopic task-relevant region) and tasks (a communicative task vs a visual tracking task that used the same sequences of stimuli). Overall task performance was not affected by rTMS, whereas changes in task performance over time were disrupted according to TMS site and task combinations. Namely, rTMS over pSTS led to a diminished ability to improve action understanding on the basis of recent communicative history, while rTMS over MTþ perturbed improvement in visual tracking over trials. These findings qualify the contri- butions of the right pSTS to human communicative abilities, showing that this region might be necessary for incorporating previous knowledge, accumulated during in- teractions with a communicative partner, to constrain the inferential process that leads to action understanding.