Contextual constraints on lexico-semantic processing in aging: Evidence from single-word event-related brain potentials

Brennan R. Payne, Kara D. Federmeier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

The current study reports the effects of accumulating contextual constraints on neural indices of lexico-semantic processing (i.e., effects of word frequency and orthographic neighborhood) as a function of normal aging. Event-related brain potentials were measured from a sample of older adults as they read sentences that were semantically congruent, provided only syntactic constraints (syntactic prose), or were random word strings. A linear mixed-effects modeling approach was used to probe the effects of accumulating contextual constraints on N400 responses to individual words. Like young adults in prior work, older adults exhibited a classic word position context effect on the N400 in congruent sentences, although the magnitude of the effect was reduced in older relative to younger adults. Moreover, by modeling single-word variability in N400 responses, we observed robust effects of orthographic neighborhood density that were larger in older adults than the young, and preserved effects word frequency. Importantly, in older adults, frequency effects were not modulated by accumulating contextual constraints, unlike in the young. Collectively, these findings indicate that older adults are less likely (or able) to use accumulating top-down contextual constraints, and therefore rely more strongly on bottom-up lexical features to guide semantic access of individual words during sentence comprehension.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-128
Number of pages12
JournalBrain Research
Volume1687
DOIs
StatePublished - May 15 2018

Keywords

  • Aging
  • Context
  • ERP
  • Language
  • N400
  • Semantic memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology

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