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Interactions between sentence context and word frequencyinevent-related brainpotentials

Abstract

Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were recorded as subjects silently read a set of unrelated sentences. The ERP responses elicited by open-class words were sorted according word frequency and the ordinal position of the eliciting word within its sentence. We observed a strong inverse correlation between sentence position and the amplitude of the N400 component of the ERP. In addition, we found that less frequent words were associated with larger N400s than were more frequent words, but only if theeliciting words occurred early in their respective sentences. We take this interaction between sentence position and word frequency as evidence that frequency does not play a mandatory role in wordrecognition, but can besuperseded by the contextual constraint provided by a sentence.

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Correspondence to Cyma Van Petten.

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A brief report of this study was presented at the Fourth International Conference on Cognitive Neuroscience, Dourdan, France, in June 1987. The work was supported by NSF Grant BNS83-09243 and NICHD Grant HD 22614. C. Van Petten was supported by an NSF Graduate Fellowship. M. Kutas is supported by NTH Research Career Development Award MH 00322.

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Van Petten, C., Kutas, M. Interactions between sentence context and word frequencyinevent-related brainpotentials. Memory & Cognition 18, 380–393 (1990). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03197127

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Keywords

  • Word Recognition
  • Lexical Decision
  • Word Frequency
  • N400 Amplitude
  • Sentence Context