Differential age effects on lexical ambiguity resolution mechanisms

Chia Lin Lee, Kara D. Federmeier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Multiple neurocognitive subsystems are involved in resolving lexical ambiguity under different circumstances. We examined how processing in these subsystems changes with normal aging by comparing ERP responses to homographs and unambiguous words completing congruent sentences (with both semantic and syntactic contextual information) or syntactic prose (syntactic information only). Like young adults in prior work, older adults elicited more negative N400s to homographs in congruent sentences, suggesting mismatch between the context and residual activation of the contextually irrelevant sense. However, the frontal negativity seen in young adults to homographs in syntactically well-defined but semantically neutral contexts was absent in older adults as a group, suggesting a decline in recruiting additional neural resources to aid difficult semantic selection. A subset of older adults with high verbal fluency maintained a young-like effect pattern.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)960-972
Number of pages13
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2011


  • Aged/demented
  • Individual differences
  • Language/speech

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry


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