Patterns of hemispheric asymmetry provide evidence dissociating the semantic and syntactic P600

Michelle Leckey, Melissa Troyer, Kara D. Federmeier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To understand how neural networks in the left (LH) and right (RH) cerebral hemispheres contribute to different aspects of language comprehension, in two experiments we measured event-related potentials (ERPs) as right-handed participants read sentences, some of which contained morphosyntactic and thematic role violations. Replicating prior work (Kuperberg et al., 2006), in Experiment 1 thematic role violations elicited both an N400 and a (semantic) P600 effect. Morphosyntactic violations elicited effects that differed as a function of participants’ familial sinistrality (the presence [FS+] or absence [FS-] of a left-handed biological relative): FS+ participants showed a (syntactic) P600 effect whereas FS- participants showed a biphasic N400 and P600 response. To assess whether this difference reflects different underlying patterns of lateralization, in Experiment 2 target words were presented using visual half-field (VF) presentation. Indeed, for morphosyntactic violations, the FS- group elicited an asymmetric pattern, showing a P600 effect only with LH-biased presentation and an N400 effect in both VFs (cf. Lee and Federmeier, 2015). In contrast, FS+ participants showed a bilateral (N400-only) response pattern. This provides further evidence of FS-based differences in hemispheric contributions to syntactic processing. Strikingly, we found that, when lateralized, thematic role violations did not elicit a P600 effect, suggesting that this effect requires contributions from both hemispheres. The different response patterns for morphosyntactic and thematic role animacy violations across FS and VF also point to a processing difference in the comprehension mechanisms underlying the semantic and syntactic P600, which had heretofore been assumed to be variants of the same component.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number108441
StatePublished - Jan 28 2023


  • ERPs
  • Familial sinistrality
  • Hemispheric differences
  • Semantic P600
  • Syntactic P600

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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