Graded and ungraded expectation patterns: Prediction dynamics during active comprehension

Melinh K. Lai, Brennan R. Payne, Kara D. Federmeier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Language comprehension can be facilitated by the accurate prediction of upcoming words, but prediction effects are not ubiquitous, and comprehenders likely use predictive processing to varying degrees depending on task demands. To ascertain the processing consequences of prioritizing prediction, we here compared ERPs elicited when young adult participants simply read for comprehension with those collected in a subsequent block that required active prediction. We were particularly interested in frontally-distributed post-N400 effects for expected and unexpected words in strongly constraining contexts, which have previously been documented as two distinct patterns: an enhanced positivity (“anterior positivity”) observed for prediction violations compared to words that are merely unpredictable (because they occur in weakly constraining sentences) and a distinction between expected endings in more constraining contexts and those same weakly constrained words (“frontal negativity” to the strongly predicted words). We found that the size of the anterior positivity effect was unchanged between passive comprehension and active prediction, suggesting that some processes related to prediction may engage state-like networks. On the other hand, the frontal negativity showed graded patterns from the interaction of task and sentence type. These differing patterns support the hypothesis that there are two separate effects with frontal scalp distributions that occur after the N400 and further suggest that the impact of violating predictions (as long as prediction is engaged at all) is largely stable across varying levels of effort/attention directed toward prediction, whereas other comprehension processes can be modulated by task demands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere14424
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2024


  • ERPs
  • Language comprehension
  • Language/Speech
  • Late anterior negativity
  • Late anterior positivity
  • Late frontal negativity
  • N400
  • Prediction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Physiology


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