Competitive mechanisms in sentence processing: Common and distinct production and reading comprehension networks linked to the prefrontal cortex

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Authors:
  • Gina F. Humphreys
  • Silvia P. Gennari


Despite much interest in language production and comprehension mechanisms, little is known about the relationship between the two. Previous research suggests that linguistic knowledge is shared across these tasks and that the left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG) may be commonly recruited. However, it remains unclear the extent to which production and comprehension share competition mechanisms. Here we investigate this issue and specifically examine competition in determining the event roles in a sentence (agent or affected participant). We used both behavioral and fMRI methods and compared the reading and production of high- and low-competition sentences, specifically targeting LIFG. We found that activity in pars opercularis (PO), independently identified by a competition-driven localizer, was modulated by competition in both tasks. Psychophysiological interaction analyses seeded in PO revealed task-specific networks: In comprehension, PO only interacted with the posterior temporal lobe, whereas in production, it interacted with a large network including hippocampal, posterior temporal, medial frontal and subcortical structures. Production and comprehension therefore recruit partially distinct functional networks but share competitive processes within fronto-temporal regions. We argue that these common regions store long-term linguistic associations and compute their higher-order contingencies, but competition in production ignites a larger neural network implementing planning, as required by task demands. © 2013.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)354-366
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014