In dialogue, language processing is adapted to the conversational partner. We hypothesize that the brain facilitates partner-adapted language processing through preparatory neural configurations (“task sets”) that are tailored to the conversational partner. In this experiment we measured neural activity with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while healthy participants in the scanner (a) engaged in a verbal communication task with a conversational partner outside of the scanner, or (b) spoke outside of a conversational context (to “test the microphone”). Using multivariate searchlight analysis we identify cortical regions that represent information on whether speakers plan to speak to a conversational partner or without having a partner. Most notably a region that has been associated with processing social-affective information and perspective taking, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, as well as regions that have been associated with prospective task representation, the bilateral ventral prefrontal cortex, are involved in encoding the speaking condition. Our results suggest that speakers prepare, in advance of speaking, for the social context in which they will speak.

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Both authors contributed equally to this work
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