The Neural Reality of Syntactic Transformations: Evidence from Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Michal Ben-Shachar, Talma Hendler, Itamar Kahn, Dafna Ben-Bashat, Yosef Grodzinsky*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

240 Scopus citations


The functional anatomy of syntactic transformations, a major computational operation invoked in sentence processing, was identified through a functional magnetic resonance imaging investigation. A grammatically judgment task was used, presented through a novel hidden-blocks design. Subjects listened to transformational and non-transformational sentences in which a host of other complexity generators (number of words, prepositions, embeddings, etc.) were kept constant. A series of analyses revealed that the neural processing of transformations is localizable, evoking a highly lateralized and localized activation in the left inferior frontal gyrus (Broca's region) and bilateral activation in the posterior superior temporal sulcus. The pattern of activation associated with transformational analysis was distinct from the one observed in neighboring regions, and anatomically separable from the effects of verb complexity, which yielded significant activation in the left posterior superior temporal sulcus. Taken together with neuropsychological evidence, these results uncover the neural reality of syntactic transformations.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)433-440
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2003
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Israel-U.S.A. Bi-National Science Foundation (BSF 1997-0451) and the Adams Super Center for Brain Research at Tel Aviv University. We thank Katrin Amunts, Nancy Kanwisher, and the anonymous reviewers for their help.


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