The domain-general multiple demand (MD) network does not support core aspects of language comprehension: a large-scale fMRI investigation

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Description: Aside from the language-selective left-lateralized fronto-temporal network, language comprehension sometimes additionally recruits a domain-general bilateral fronto-parietal network implicated in executive functions: the multiple demand (MD) network. However, the nature of the MD network’s contributions to language comprehension remains debated. To illuminate the role of this network in language processing, we conducted a large-scale fMRI investigation using data from 30 diverse word and sentence comprehension experiments (481 unique participants, 678 scanning sessions). In line with prior findings, the MD network was active during many language tasks. Moreover, similar to the language-selective network, which is robustly lateralized to the left hemisphere, these responses were stronger in the left-hemisphere MD regions. However, in stark contrast with the language-selective network, the MD network responded more strongly (i) to lists of unconnected words than to sentences, and critically, (ii) in paradigms with an explicit task compared to passive comprehension paradigms. In fact, many passive comprehension tasks failed to elicit a response above the fixation baseline in the MD network, in contrast to strong responses in the language-selective network. In tandem, these results argue against a role for the MD network in core aspects of sentence comprehension like inhibiting irrelevant meanings or parses, keeping intermediate representations active in working memory, or predicting upcoming words or structures. These results align with recent evidence of relatively poor tracking of the linguistic signal by the MD regions during naturalistic comprehension, and instead suggest that the MD network’s engagement during language processing likely reflects effort associated with extraneous task demands.

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SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS All supplemental materials are available to be downloaded individually below or as one .zip file from Files TABLES: Table SI-1: Details on the participants' age, sex, and handedness in Experiments 1-30 Table SI-2: Neural response estimates in the language and multiple demand fROIs for the two critical experimental conditions (sentences and words) in Experiments 1-30 Table SI...

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