A meta-analysis of fMRI studies of language comprehension in children

Neuroimage. 2020 Jul 15;215:116858. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2020.116858. Epub 2020 Apr 15.


The neural representation of language comprehension has been examined in several meta-analyses of fMRI studies with human adults. To complement this work from a developmental perspective, we conducted a meta-analysis of fMRI studies of auditory language comprehension in human children. Our analysis included 27 independent experiments involving n ​= ​625 children (49% girls) with a mean age of 8.9 years. Activation likelihood estimation and seed-based effect size mapping revealed activation peaks in the pars triangularis of the left inferior frontal gyrus and bilateral superior and middle temporal gyri. In contrast to this distribution of activation in children, previous work in adults found activation peaks in the pars opercularis of the left inferior frontal gyrus and more left-lateralized temporal activation peaks. Accordingly, brain responses during language comprehension may shift from bilateral temporal and left pars triangularis peaks in childhood to left temporal and pars opercularis peaks in adulthood. This shift could be related to the gradually increasing sensitivity of the developing brain to syntactic information.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Comprehension / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language Tests*
  • Language*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male