Intention processing in communication: A common brain network for language and gestures

Ivan Enrici, Mauro Adenzato, Stefano Cappa, Bruno G. Bara, Marco Tettamanti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Human communicative competence is based on the ability to process a specific class of mental states, namely, communicative intention. The present fMRI study aims to analyze whether intention processing in communication is affected by the expressive means through which a communicative intention is conveyed, that is, the linguistic or extralinguistic gestural means. Combined factorial and conjunction analyses were used to test two sets of predictions: first, that a common brain network is recruited for the comprehension of communicative intentions independently of the modality through which they are conveyed; second, that additional brain areas are specifically recruited depending on the communicative modality used, reflecting distinct sensorimotor gateways. Our results clearly showed that a common neural network is engaged in communicative intention processing independently of the modality used. This network includes the precuneus, the left and right posterior STS and TPJ, and the medial pFC. Additional brain areas outside those involved in intention processing are specifically engaged by the particular communicative modality, that is, a peri-sylvian language network for the linguistic modality and a sensorimotor network for the extralinguistic modality. Thus, common representation of communicative intention may be accessed by modality-specific gateways, which are distinct for linguistic versus extralinguistic expressive means. Taken together, our results indicate that the information acquired by different communicative modalities is equivalent from a mental processing standpoint, in particular, at the point at which the actor's communicative intention has to be reconstructed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2415-2431
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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