Neural correlates of language comprehension in autism spectrum disorders: When language conflicts with world knowledge
In individuals with ASD, difficulties with language comprehension are most evident when higher-level semantic-pragmatic language processing is required, for instance when context has to be used to interpret the meaning of an utterance. Until now, it is unclear at what level of processing and for what type of context these difficulties in language comprehension occur. Therefore, in the current fMRI study, we investigated the neural correlates of the integration of contextual information during auditory language comprehension in 24 adults with ASD and 24 matched control participants. Different levels of context processing were manipulated by using spoken sentences that were correct or contained either a semantic or world knowledge anomaly. Our findings demonstrated significant differences between the groups in inferior frontal cortex that were only present for sentences with a world knowledge anomaly. Relative to the ASD group, the control group showed significantly increased activation in left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG) for sentences with a world knowledge anomaly compared to correct sentences. This effect possibly indicates reduced integrative capacities of the ASD group. Furthermore, world knowledge anomalies elicited significantly stronger activation in right inferior frontal gyrus (RIFG) in the control group compared to the ASD group. This additional RIFG activation probably reflects revision of the situation model after new, conflicting information. The lack of recruitment of RIFG is possibly related to difficulties with exception handling in the ASD group.