Separating phonological and semantic processing in auditory sentence processing: A high-resolution event-related brain potential study
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Phonological and semantic processing was studied using high-resolution event-related brain potentials (ERPs) during a sentence-matching task to investigate the spatial distribution of the phonological mismatch negativity (PMN) and the N400 response. It was hypothesized that the two components were spatially separable and that the activity matched prior localization knowledge. Participants examined visual-auditory sentence pairs that related within a semantic hierarchy (e.g., visual: "The man is teaching in the classroom"; Auditory: "The man is in the em leader school/barn"). Semantic congruency was varied for the final words of the spoken sentences. Incongruent words mismatched expectation in terms of both the initial phonological features (unexpected sound) and semantic features (unexpected meaning). In addition, the category-exemplar probability of the final words was either high or low, with low probability words being more difficult to anticipate. Low probability words were predicted to selectively affect PMN activity. We found that incongruent words elicited a PMN (287 msec) and a N400 (424 msec), for both the high and low probability words. As expected, low probability congruent words elicited a small PMN but no N400. In contrast, high probability congruent words elicited neither a detectible PMN nor a N400. The primary PMN sources were in left inferior frontal and inferior parietal lobes. The primary N400 source activation occurred along the left perisylvian cortex, consistent with prior N400 source localization work. From these results, it was concluded that the PMN and N400 were localized to separate cortical language (and memory) regions and had different source activation patterns.
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