Language comprehension is neurally underpinned by a network of collaborating cortical processing centers; individual differences in comprehension must be related to some set of this network's properties. This study investigated the neural bases of individual differences during sentence comprehension by examining the network's response to two variations in processing demands: reading sentences containing words of high versus low lexical frequency and having simpler versus more complex syntax. In a functional magnetic resonance imaging study, readers who were independently identified as having high or low working memory capacity for language exhibited three differentiating properties of their language network, namely, neural efficiency, adaptability, and synchronization. First, greater efficiency (defined as a reduction in activation associated with improved performance) was manifested as less activation in the bilateral middle frontal and right lingual gyri in high-capacity readers. Second, increased adaptability was indexed by larger lexical frequency effects in high-capacity readers across bilateral middle frontal, bilateral inferior occipital, and right temporal regions. Third, greater synchronization was observed in high-capacity readers between left temporal and left inferior frontal, left parietal, and right occipital regions. Synchronization interacted with adaptability, such that functional connectivity remained constant or increased with increasing lexical and syntactic demands in high-capacity readers, whereas low-capacity readers either showed no reliable differentiation or a decrease in functional connectivity with increasing demands. These results are among the first to relate multiple cortical network properties to individual differences in reading capacity and suggest a more general framework for understanding the relation between neural function and individual differences in cognitive performance.

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