Won't get fooled again: An event-related potential study of task and repetition effects on the semantic processing of items without semantics

Sarah Laszlo, Mallory Stites, Kara D. Federmeier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

A growing body of evidence suggests that semantic access is obligatory. Several studies have demonstrated that brain activity associated with semantic processing, measured in the N400 component of the event-related brain potential (ERP), is elicited even by meaningless, orthographically illegal strings, suggesting that semantic access is not gated by lexicality. However, the downstream consequences of that activity vary by item type, exemplified by the typical finding that N400 activity is reduced by repetition for words and pronounceable nonwords but not for illegal strings. We propose that this lack of repetition effect for illegal strings is caused not by lack of contact with semantics, but by the unrefined nature of that contact under conditions in which illegal strings can be readily categorised as task-irrelevant. To test this, we collected ERPs from participants performing a modified Lexical Decision Task, in which the presence of orthographically illegal acronyms rendered meaningless illegal strings more difficult lures than normal. Confirming our hypothesis, under these conditions illegal strings elicited robust N400 repetition effects, quantitatively and qualitatively similar to those elicited by words, pseudowords, and acronyms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)257-274
Number of pages18
JournalLanguage and Cognitive Processes
Volume27
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2012

Keywords

  • ERPs
  • Lexical decision
  • N400
  • Semantic access

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language

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