A functional neuroimaging investigation of the roles of structural complexity and task-demand during auditory sentence processing

Tracy Love, Frank Haist, Janet L Nicol, David Swinney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

31 Scopus citations


Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), this study directly examined an issue that bridges the potential language processing and multi-modal views of the role of Broca's area: the effects of task-demands in language comprehension studies. We presented syntactically simple and complex sentences for auditory comprehension under three different (differentially complex) task-demand conditions: passive listening, probe verification, and theme judgment. Contrary to many language imaging findings, we found that both simple and complex syntactic structures activated left inferior frontal cortex (L-IFC). Critically, we found activation in these frontal regions increased together with increased task-demands. Specifically, tasks that required greater manipulation and comparison of linguistic material recruited L-IFC more strongly; independent of syntactic structure complexity. We argue that much of the presumed syntactic effects previously found in sentence imaging studies of L-IFC may, among other things, reflect the tasks employed in these studies and that L-IFC is a region underlying mnemonic and other integrative functions, on which much language processing may rely.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)577-590
Number of pages14
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - May 2006
Externally publishedYes



  • Broca's area
  • fMRI
  • Sentence complexity
  • Task demands

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neuroscience(all)

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