Revisiting the incremental effects of context on word processing: Evidence from single-word event-related brain potentials

Brennan R. Payne, Chia Lin Lee, Kara D. Federmeier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The amplitude of the N400-an event-related potential (ERP) component linked to meaning processing and initial access to semantic memory-is inversely related to the incremental buildup of semantic context over the course of a sentence. We revisited the nature and scope of this incremental context effect, adopting a word-level linear mixed-effects modeling approach, with the goal of probing the continuous and incremental effects of semantic and syntactic context on multiple aspects of lexical processing during sentence comprehension (i.e., effects of word frequency and orthographic neighborhood). First, we replicated the classic word-position effect at the single-word level: Open-class words showed reductions in N400 amplitude with increasing word position in semantically congruent sentences only. Importantly, we found that accruing sentence context had separable influences on the effects of frequency and neighborhood on the N400. Word frequency effects were reduced with accumulating semantic context. However, orthographic neighborhood was unaffected by accumulating context, showing robust effects on the N400 across all words, even within congruent sentences. Additionally, we found that N400 amplitudes to closed-class words were reduced with incrementally constraining syntactic context in sentences that provided only syntactic constraints. Taken together, our findings indicate that modeling word-level variability in ERPs reveals mechanisms by which different sources of information simultaneously contribute to the unfolding neural dynamics of comprehension.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1456-1469
Number of pages14
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015


  • Event-related potentials (ERPs)
  • Lexical processing
  • Linear mixed-effects model
  • N400
  • Sentence comprehension

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

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Revisiting the incremental effects of context on word processing: Evidence from single-word event-related brain potentials'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this