Individual differences in auditory sentence comprehension in children: An exploratory event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging investigation

Jason D. Yeatman, Michal Ben-Shachar, Gary H. Glover, Heidi M. Feldman

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44 Scopus citations


The purpose of this study was to explore changes in activation of the cortical network that serves auditory sentence comprehension in children in response to increasing demands of complex sentences. A further goal is to study how individual differences in children's receptive language abilities are associated with such changes in cortical responses. Fourteen children, 10-16. years old, participated in an event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging experiment using a cross modal sentence-picture verification paradigm. We manipulated sentence difficulty and length in a 2 × 2 factorial design. Task-related activation covered large regions of the left and right superior temporal cortex, inferior parietal lobe, precuneous, cingulate, middle frontal gyrus and precentral gyrus. Sentence difficulty, independent of length, led to increased activation in the left temporal-parietal junction and right superior temporal gyrus. Changes in activation in frontal regions positively correlated with age-standardized receptive vocabulary scores and negatively correlated with reaction time on a receptive grammar test outside the scanner. Thus, individual differences in language skills were associated with changes in the network in response to changing task demands. These preliminary findings in a small sample of typically developing children suggest that the investigation of individual differences may prove useful in elucidating the underlying neural mechanisms of language disorders in children.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)72-79
Number of pages8
JournalBrain and Language
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors gratefully acknowledge Dorothy V.M. Bishop, PhD for providing us with pre-publication copies of pictures from TROG-2 from which stimuli for the scanning task were derived. We also acknowledge Eliana Lee for assistance in data collection; Ben Hutchinson for analytic scripts; and Irene M. Loe, Lynne C. Huffman, Eliana Lee, and James L. McClelland for helpful comments on earlier versions. This work was supported by a Grant from the National Institutes of Health , Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development , RO1 HD046500 to Heidi M. Feldman and by a Grant from National Institutes of Health NCRR , P41RR09784 Center for Advanced MR Techniques at Stanford to Gary H. Glover.


  • Children
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)
  • Individual differences
  • Inter-subject variability
  • Language
  • Sentence comprehension


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