Network Analysis of Human Brain Connectivity Reveals Neural Fingerprints of a Compositionality Bias in Signaling Systems

Massimo Lumaca, Peter Vuust, Giosuè Baggio

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Compositionality is a hallmark of human language and other symbolic systems: a finite set of meaningful elements can be systematically combined to convey an open-ended array of ideas. Compositionality is not uniformly distributed over expressions in a language or over individuals’ communicative behavior: at both levels, variation is observed. Here, we investigate the neural bases of interindividual variability by probing the relationship between intrinsic characteristics of brain networks and compositional behavior. We first collected functional resting-state and diffusion magnetic resonance imaging data from a large participant sample (N = 51). Subsequently, participants took part in two signaling games. They were instructed to learn and reproduce an auditory symbolic system of signals (tone sequences) associated with affective meanings (human faces expressing emotions). Signal-meaning mappings were artificial and had to be learned via repeated signaling interactions. We identified a temporoparietal network in which connection length was related to the degree of compositionality introduced in a signaling system by each player. Graph-theoretic analysis of resting-state functional connectivity revealed that, within that network, compositional behavior was associated with integration measures in 2 semantic hubs: the left posterior cingulate cortex and the left angular gyrus. Our findings link individual variability in compositional biases to variation in the anatomy of semantic networks and in the functional topology of their constituent units.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCerebral Cortex
Pages (from-to)1704-1720
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


  • angular gyrus
  • posterior cingulate cortex
  • cognitive biases
  • combinatorial processes
  • compositionality
  • Brain/diagnostic imaging
  • Semantics
  • Bias
  • Humans
  • Brain Mapping
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging/methods
  • Neural Pathways/diagnostic imaging


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