Human communicational interaction can be mediated by a host of expressive means from words in a natural language to gestures and material symbols. Given the proper contextual setting even an everyday object can gain a mediating function in a communicational situation. In this study we used event-related fMRI to study the brain activity caused by everyday material objects when they are perceived as signals. We found that comprehension of material signals activates bilaterally areas of the ventral stream and pars triangularis of the inferior frontal cortex, that is, areas traditionally associated with verbal language and semantics. In addition, we found that right-hemisphere inferior frontal cortex is recruited as a function of the increasing unconventionality of communicative objects. Together these findings support an interpretation of the traditional language areas as playing a more general role across modalities in relation to communicational mediation of social semantic meaning.
Brain and Language, 2009, Vol 108, Issue 3, p. 159-166