Sensory and semantic category subdivisions within the anterior temporal lobes

Laura M. Skipper, Lars A. Ross, Ingrid R. Olson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


In the semantic memory literature the anterior temporal lobe (ATL) is frequently discussed as one homogeneous region when in fact, anatomical studies indicate that it is likely that there are discrete subregions within this area. Indeed, the influential Hub Account of semantic memory has proposed that this region is a sensory-amodal, general-purpose semantic processing region. However review of the literature suggested two potential demarcations: sensory subdivisions and a social/nonsocial subdivision. To test this, participants were trained to associate social or non-social words with novel auditory, visual, or audiovisual stimuli. Later, study participants underwent an fMRI scan where they were presented with the sensory stimuli and the task was to recall the semantic associate. The results showed that there were sensory specific subdivisions within the ATL - that the perceptual encoding of auditory stimuli preferentially activated the superior ATL, visual stimuli the inferior ATL, and multisensory stimuli the polar ATL. Moreover, our data showed that there is stimulus-specific sensitivity within the ATL - the superior and polar ATLs were more sensitive to the retrieval of social knowledge as compared to non-social knowledge. No ATL regions were more sensitive to the retrieval of non-social knowledge. These findings indicate that the retrieval of newly learned semantic associations activates the ATL. In addition, superior and polar aspects of the ATL are sensitive to social stimuli but relatively insensitive to non-social stimuli, a finding that is predicted by anatomical connectivity and single-unit studies in non-human primates. And lastly, the ATL contains sensory processing subdivisions that fall along superior (auditory), inferior (visual), polar (audiovisual) subdivisions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3419-3429
Number of pages11
Issue number12
StatePublished - Oct 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Language
  • Semantic memory
  • Social cognition
  • Temporal pole

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Sensory and semantic category subdivisions within the anterior temporal lobes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this