The Temporal Structure of Language Processing in the Human Brain Corresponds to The Layered Hierarchy of Deep Language Models


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Deep Language Models (DLMs) provide a novel computational paradigm for understanding the mechanisms of natural language processing in the human brain. Unlike traditional psycholinguistic models, DLMs use layered sequences of continuous numerical vectors to represent words and context, allowing a plethora of emerging applications such as human-like text generation. In this paper we show evidence that the layered hierarchy of DLMs may be used to model the temporal dynamics of language comprehension in the brain by demonstrating a strong correlation between DLM layer depth and the time at which layers are most predictive of the human brain. Our ability to temporally resolve individual layers benefits from our use of electrocorticography (ECoG) data, which has a much higher temporal resolution than noninvasive methods like fMRI. Using ECoG, we record neural activity from participants listening to a 30-minute narrative while also feeding the same narrative to a high-performing DLM (GPT2-XL). We then extract contextual embeddings from the different layers of the DLM and use linear encoding models to predict neural activity. We first focus on the Inferior Frontal Gyrus (IFG, or Broca's area) and then extend our model to track the increasing temporal receptive window along the linguistic processing hierarchy from auditory to syntactic and semantic areas. Our results reveal a connection between human language processing and DLMs, with the DLM's layer-by-layer accumulation of contextual information mirroring the timing of neural activity in high-order language areas.
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