A dissociation between linguistic and communicative abilities in the human brain

Roel M. Willems, Miriam de Boer, Jan Peter de Ruiter, Matthijs Leendert Noordzij, Peter Hagoort, Ivan Toni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)


Although language is an effective vehicle for communication, it is unclear how linguistic and communicative abilities relate to each other. Some researchers have argued that communicative message generation involves perspective taking (mentalizing), and—crucially—that mentalizing depends on language. We employed a verbal communication paradigm to directly test whether the generation of a communicative action relies on mentalizing and whether the cerebral bases of communicative message generation are distinct from parts of cortex sensitive to linguistic variables. We found that dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, a brain area consistently associated with mentalizing, was sensitive to the communicative intent of utterances, irrespective of linguistic difficulty. In contrast, left inferior frontal cortex, an area known to be involved in language, was sensitive to the linguistic demands of utterances, but not to communicative intent. These findings show that communicative and linguistic abilities rely on cerebrally (and computationally) distinct mechanisms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8-14
Number of pages7
JournalPsychological science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • METIS-269945
  • IR-73308
  • EC Grant Agreement nr.: FP6/003747


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