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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

Winter 1994, Vol. 6, No. 1, Pages 70-83
(doi: 10.1162/jocn.1994.6.1.70)
© 1994 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Global Semantic Expectancy and Language Comprehension
Article PDF (1.36 MB)
Abstract

Previous research on the N400 component of the event-related brain potential (ERP) has dealt primarily with measuring the degree of expectancy on the part of the reader as a result of the context within a sentence. Research has shown that when the final word in a sentence is unexpected or incoherent, a greater N400 amplitude is elicited than if the final word is expected or coherent within the context of the sentence. The present study investigated whether the N400 component is sensitive to global, as well as local, semantic expectancy. Global coherence refers to the ease with which subjects can relate the current proposition they are reading with theme-related ideas. In the present study, the effect of global coherence on event-related brain potentials was tested using four titled and untitled paragraphs (Bransford & Johnson, 1972; Dooling & Lachman, 1971), presented one word at a time. These paragraphs are noncoherent, and are made coherent only with the presentation of a title. The EEG was recorded in response to every word in all four paragraphs. We found an increase in N400 amplitude in response to the words in the Untitled paragraphs relative to the Titled paragraphs, indicating that global coherence does affect the N400. In addition, subjects in the Titled group showed an enhanced P1-N1 component relative to the Untitled group suggesting that the presence of global coherence allows greater attention to be allocated to early visual processing of words.