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 core language-specific 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-specific 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-specific 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-specific 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 reflects effort associated with extraneous task demands.

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SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS Available to download below: Table SI-1: The information about the participant overlap across 30 experiments Table SI-2: Neural estimates in the language and multiple demand fROIs for both experimental conditions (sentences and words) in Experiments 1-30 Table SI-3a H>E: Neural estimates in the multiple demand fROIs for the conditions of the multiple demand localizer with t...

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