Statistical experience and individual cognitive differences modulate neural activity during sentence production

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Abstract

I explored how individual cognitive differences combine with prior statistical experience to determine choice of sentence structure during speech. Participants were exposed to English language input with controlled statistical properties wherein some verbs appeared equally often in two possible structures and others appeared in only one. Subsequently, they produced sentences naturally while their brain activity was scanned. Choosing a less preferred over a more preferred structure recruited regions involved in conflict control, especially in individuals with better control abilities. Activity within a key region, the anterior cingulate cortex or ACC, varied parametrically with the statistical input properties. ACC activation showed different correlations with language production and different functional connectivity patterns for different verbs. These results demonstrate how the adult brain adjusts to ongoing language experience and recruits different neural resources to accomplish the same speech goal under different circumstances.

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