, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 367-379

Event-related brain potentials dissociate repetition effects of high-and low-frequency words

Abstract

Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were recorded while subjects detected nonwords interspersed among sequences of words of high or low frequency of occurrence. In Phase 1, a proportion of the words were repeated after six intervening items. In Phase 2, which followed after a break of approximately 15 min, the words were either repeats of items presented in the previous phase or new. Unrepeated low-frequency words evoked larger N400 components than did high-frequency items. In Phase 1, this effect interacted with repetition, suchthatnofreqiiency effects were observed on N400s evoked by repeated words. In addition, the post-500-msec latency region of the ERPs exhibited a substantial repetition effect for low-frequency words, but did not differentiate unrepeated and repeated high-frequency words. In Phase 2, ERPs evoked by “old” and “new” high-frequency words did not differ in any latency region, while those evoked by old and new low-frequency words differed only after 500 msec. The interactive effects of frequency and repetition suggest that these variables act jointly at multiple loci during the processing of a word. The specificity of the post-500-msec repetition effect for low-frequency words may reflect a process responsive to a discrepancy between words’ intra and extraexperimental familiarity.

This work was supported by the Medical Research Council of the U.K. and the Wellcome Trust.