Minding the PS, queues, and PXQs: Uniformity of semantic processing across multiple stimulus types

Sarah Laszlo, Kara D. Federmeier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An assumption in the reading literature is that access to semantics is gated by stimulus properties such as orthographic regularity or familiarity. In the electrophysiological domain, this assumption has led to a debate about the features necessary to initiate semantic processing as indexed by the N400 event-related potential (ERP) component. To examine this, we recorded ERPs to sentences with endings that were familiar and legal (words), familiar and illegal (acronyms), or unfamiliar and illegal (consonant or vowel strings). N400 congruency effects (reduced negativity to expected relative to unexpected endings) were observed for words and acronyms; these were identical in size, timing, and scalp distribution. Notably, clear N400 potentials were also elicited by unfamiliar, illegal strings, suggesting that, at least in a verbal context, semantic access may be attempted for any letter string, regardless of familiarity or regularity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)458-466
Number of pages9
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2008


  • Event-related potentials (ERPs)
  • N400
  • Semantic access
  • Visual word recognition

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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