How the Brain Dynamically Constructs Sentence-Level Meanings From Word-Level Features (2022)
How are words connected to the thoughts they help to express? Recent brain imaging studies suggest that word representations are embodied in different neural systems through which the words are experienced. Building on this idea, embodied approaches such as the Concept Attribute Representations (CAR) theory represents concepts as a set of semantic features (attributes) mapped to different brain systems. An intriguing challenge to this theory is that people weigh concept attributes differently based on context, i.e., they construct meaning dynamically according to the combination of concepts that occur in the sentence. This research addresses this challenge through the Context-dEpendent meaning REpresentations in the BRAin (CEREBRA) neural network model. Based on changes in the brain images, CEREBRA quantifies the effect of sentence context on word meanings. Computational experiments demonstrated that words in different contexts have different representations, the changes observed in the concept attributes reveal unique conceptual combinations, and that the new representations are more similar to the other words in the sentence than to the original representations. Behavioral analysis further confirmed that the changes produced by CEREBRA are actionable knowledge that can be used to predict human responses. These experiments constitute a comprehensive evaluation of CEREBRA’s context-based representations, showing that CARs can be dynamic and change based on context. Thus, CEREBRA is a useful tool for understanding how word meanings are represented in the brain, providing a framework for future interdisciplinary research on the mental lexicon.
In Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence, 2022.

Nora E. Aguirre-Celis Ph.D. Alumni naguirre [at] cs utexas edu
Risto Miikkulainen Faculty risto [at] cs utexas edu