Frequency and regularity effects in reading are task dependent: Evidence from ERPs

Simon Fischer-Baum, Danielle S. Dickson, Kara D. Federmeier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many theories of visual word processing assume obligatory semantic access and phonological recoding whenever a written word is encountered. However, the relative importance of different reading processes depends on task. The current study uses event-related potentials (ERPs) to investigate whether – and, if so, when and how – effects of task modulate how visually presented words are processed. Participants were presented written words in the context of two tasks, delayed reading aloud and proper name detection. Stimuli varied factorially on lexical frequency and on spelling-to-sound regularity, while controlling for other lexical variables. Effects of both lexical frequency and regularity were modulated by task. Lexical frequency modulated N400 amplitude, but only in the reading aloud task, whereas spelling-to-sound regularity interacted with frequency to modulate the late positive complex, again only in the reading aloud task. Taken together, these results demonstrate that task demands affect how meaning and sound are generated from written words.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1342-1355
Number of pages14
JournalLanguage, Cognition and Neuroscience
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2014


  • ERPs
  • Lexical frequency
  • Spelling-to-sound regularity
  • Task-dependent processing
  • Visual word processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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