How struggling adult readers use contextual information when comprehending speech

Evidence from event-related potentials

Shukhan Ng, Brennan R. Payne, Elizabeth A L Stine-Morrow, Kara D Federmeier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

We investigated how struggling adult readers make use of sentence context to facilitate word processing when comprehending spoken language, conditions under which print decoding is not a barrier to comprehension. Stimuli were strongly and weakly constraining sentences (as measured by cloze probability), which ended with the most expected word based on those constraints or an unexpected but plausible word. Community-dwelling adults with varying literacy skills listened to continuous speech while their EEG was recorded. Participants, regardless of literacy level, showed N400 effects yoked to the cloze probability of the targets, with larger N400 amplitudes for less expected than more expected words. However, literacy-related differences emerged in an earlier time window of 170–300 ms: higher literacy adults produced a reduced negativity for strongly predictable targets over anterior channels, similar to previously reported effects on the Phonological Mapping Negativity (PMN), whereas low-literacy adults did not. Collectively, these findings suggest that in auditory sentence processing literacy may not notably affect the incremental activation of semantic features, but that comprehenders with underdeveloped literacy skills may be less likely to engage predictive processing. Thus, basic mechanisms of comprehension may be recruited differently as a function of literacy development—even in spoken language.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Psychophysiology
Volume125
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018

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Evoked Potentials
Language
Word Processing
Independent Living
Literacy
Semantics
Electroencephalography

Keywords

  • Adult literacy
  • Auditory ERPs
  • Contextual processing
  • N400
  • Phonological mismatch negativity
  • Prediction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Physiology (medical)

Cite this

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title = "How struggling adult readers use contextual information when comprehending speech: Evidence from event-related potentials",
abstract = "We investigated how struggling adult readers make use of sentence context to facilitate word processing when comprehending spoken language, conditions under which print decoding is not a barrier to comprehension. Stimuli were strongly and weakly constraining sentences (as measured by cloze probability), which ended with the most expected word based on those constraints or an unexpected but plausible word. Community-dwelling adults with varying literacy skills listened to continuous speech while their EEG was recorded. Participants, regardless of literacy level, showed N400 effects yoked to the cloze probability of the targets, with larger N400 amplitudes for less expected than more expected words. However, literacy-related differences emerged in an earlier time window of 170–300 ms: higher literacy adults produced a reduced negativity for strongly predictable targets over anterior channels, similar to previously reported effects on the Phonological Mapping Negativity (PMN), whereas low-literacy adults did not. Collectively, these findings suggest that in auditory sentence processing literacy may not notably affect the incremental activation of semantic features, but that comprehenders with underdeveloped literacy skills may be less likely to engage predictive processing. Thus, basic mechanisms of comprehension may be recruited differently as a function of literacy development—even in spoken language.",
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