Neural Correlates of Subliminal Language Processing

Vadim Axelrod, Moshe Bar, Geraint Rees, Galit Yovel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Language is a high-level cognitive function, so exploring the neural correlates of unconscious language processing is essential for understanding the limits of unconscious processing in general. The results of several functional magnetic resonance imaging studies have suggested that unconscious lexical and semantic processing is confined to the posterior temporal lobe, without involvement of the frontal lobe - the regions that are indispensable for conscious language processing. However, previous studies employed a similarly designed masked priming paradigm with briefly presented single and contextually unrelated words. It is thus possible, that the stimulation level was insufficiently strong to be detected in the high-level frontal regions. Here, in a high-resolution fMRI and multivariate pattern analysis study we explored the neural correlates of subliminal language processing using a novel paradigm, where written meaningful sentences were suppressed from awareness for extended duration using continuous flash suppression. We found that subjectively and objectively invisible meaningful sentences and unpronounceable nonwords could be discriminated not only in the left posterior superior temporal sulcus (STS), but critically, also in the left middle frontal gyrus. We conclude that frontal lobes play a role in unconscious language processing and that activation of the frontal lobes per se might not be sufficient for achieving conscious awareness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2160-2169
Number of pages10
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number8
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 The Author.


FundersFunder number
Wellcome Trust100227/Z/12/Z, 091593/Z/10/Z


    • continuous flash suppression (CFS)
    • decoding subliminal content
    • fMRI imaging of unconscious processing
    • multivoxel pattern classification analysis (MVPA)
    • subliminal language processing


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