Fractionating difficulty during sentence comprehension using functional neuroimaging

Thothathiri, M., Basnakova, J., Lewis, A. G., & Briand, J. M. (2024). Fractionating difficulty during sentence comprehension using functional neuroimaging. Cerebral Cortex, 34(2): bhae032. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhae032.
Sentence comprehension is highly practiced and largely automatic, but this belies the complexity of the underlying processes. We used functional neuroimaging to investigate garden-path sentences that cause difficulty during comprehension, in order to unpack the different processes used to support sentence interpretation. By investigating garden-path and other types of sentences within the same individuals, we functionally profiled different regions within the temporal and frontal cortices in the left hemisphere. The results revealed that different aspects of comprehension difficulty are handled by left posterior temporal, left anterior temporal, ventral left frontal, and dorsal left frontal cortices. The functional profiles of these regions likely lie along a spectrum of specificity to generality, including language-specific processing of linguistic representations, more general conflict resolution processes operating over linguistic representations, and processes for handling difficulty in general. These findings suggest that difficulty is not unitary and that there is a role for a variety of linguistic and non-linguistic processes in supporting comprehension.
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