Hemispheric differences in the recruitment of semantic processing mechanisms

Padmapriya Kandhadai, Kara D. Federmeier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study examined how the two cerebral hemispheres recruit semantic processing mechanisms by combining event-related potential measures and visual half-field methods in a word priming paradigm in which semantic strength and predictability were manipulated using lexically associated word pairs. Activation patterns on the late positive complex (LPC), linked to controlled aspects of processing, showed that previously documented left hemisphere (LH) processing benefits for word pairs with a weak forward but strong backward association stem from the ability to appreciate meaning relations in an order-independent fashion and/or strategically reorder them. Whereas there is a LH benefit for such strategic processing during comprehension in passive tasks, the present study further showed that the right hemisphere (RH) is also able to make use of these mechanisms when explicit semantic judgments are required. In both hemispheres, N400 responses, linked to initial semantic activation, were largely graded by association strength, with more amplitude reduction for forward associates and strong, symmetrically associated pairs compared to backward associates and matched weak, symmetrically associated pairs. However, responses to moderately associated pairs were more facilitated after initial presentation to the LH than to the RH. This pattern converges with sentence-processing findings that point to LH advantages for using context information to predict features of likely upcoming words. Together, the results suggest that an important basis for hemispheric asymmetries in language comprehension arises from when and how each uses top-down semantic mechanisms to shape initial semantic activation over time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3772-3781
Number of pages10
Issue number13
StatePublished - Nov 2010


  • ERPs
  • LPC
  • Language
  • Lexical association
  • N400
  • Word priming

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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