Apr 17, 2020

Incremental language comprehension difficulty predicts activity in the language network but not the multiple demand network

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
Leila WehbeE. Fedorenko


What role do domain-general executive functions play in human language comprehension? To address this question, we examine the relationship between behavioral measures of comprehension and neural activity in the domain-general "multiple demand" (MD) network, which has been linked to constructs like attention, working memory, inhibitory control, and selection, and implicated in diverse goal-directed behaviors. Specifically, fMRI data collected during naturalistic story listening are compared to theory-neutral measures of online comprehension difficulty and incremental processing load (reading times and eye-fixation durations). Critically, to ensure that variance in these measures is driven by features of the linguistic stimulus rather than reflecting participant- or trial-level variability, the neuroimaging and behavioral datasets were collected in non-overlapping samples. We find no behavioral-neural link in functionally localized MD regions; instead, this link is found in the domain-specific, fronto-temporal "core language network", in both left hemispheric areas and their right hemispheric homologues. These results argue against strong involvement of domain-general executive circuits in language comprehension.

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