Event-related potential sensitivity to acoustic and semantic properties of terminal words in sentences
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This experiment was concerned with the effects of phonologically correct masking on the electrophysiological responses to terminal words of spoken sentences differing in contextual constraint. Two event-related potential (ERP) components, the N400 and N200, were recorded to the terminal words of high and low constraint sentences in four conditions. In the Control condition, subjects (Ss) simply attended to the sentences with no explicit task instructions. In the Semantic condition, Ss were required to listen to the stimuli in order to make semantic judgements about the terminal word of each sentence. The Control+Masking condition was identical to the Control condition except for the simultaneous presentation of a masking stimulus. The Semantic+Masking condition had Ss listening to sentences in the presence of masking with the task of making semantic judgements about the terminal word of each sentence. ERPs were recorded from Fz, Cz, Pz, T3, and T4 in 10 subjects. Amplitudes of both the N200 and the N400 were sensitive to contextual constraint with larger responses elicited by the terminal words of low constraint sentences. In addition to demonstrating the co-occurrence of the N200 and N400, this experiment highlighted a functional separation between the two components. Masking had no statistically significant effect on N200 latency but N400 latency was delayed in the masked conditions relative to those in the unmasked conditions. It is proposed that the N200 and N400 are manifestations of two different processes; the N200 reflects the acoustic/phonological processing of the terminal word while the N400 reflects the cognitive/linguistic processing. The relationship between the N200 recorded in this experiment and the discrimination N200 is discussed.
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