Test–retest reliability and stability of N400 effects in a word-pair semantic priming paradigm Academic Article uri icon

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  • OBJECTIVE: Elicited by any meaningful stimulus, the N400 event-related potential (ERP) component is reduced when the stimulus is related to a preceding one. This N400 semantic priming effect has been used to probe abnormal semantic relationship processing in clinical disorders, and suggested as a possible biomarker for treatment studies. Validating N400 semantic priming effects as a clinical biomarker requires characterizing their test-retest reliability. METHODS: We assessed test-retest reliability of N400 semantic priming in 16 healthy adults who viewed the same related and unrelated prime-target word pairs in two sessions one week apart. RESULTS: As expected, N400 amplitudes were smaller for related versus unrelated targets across sessions. N400 priming effects (amplitude differences between unrelated and related targets) were highly correlated across sessions (r=0.85, P<0.0001), but smaller in the second session due to larger N400s to related targets. CONCLUSIONS: N400 priming effects have high reliability over a one-week interval. They may decrease with repeat testing, possibly because of motivational changes. SIGNIFICANCE: Use of N400 priming effects in treatment studies should account for possible magnitude decreases with repeat testing. Further research is needed to delineate N400 priming effects' test-retest reliability and stability in different age and clinical groups, and with different stimulus types.


  • Kiang, Michael
  • Patriciu, Iulia
  • Roy, Carolyn
  • Christensen, Bruce K
  • Zipursky, Robert

publication date

  • April 2013

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