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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

August 2008, Vol. 20, No. 8, Pages 1355-1370
(doi: 10.1162/jocn.2008.20093)
© 2008 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Event-related Potential Correlates of Negation in a Sentence–Picture Verification Paradigm
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In a sentence–picture verification paradigm, participants were presented in a rapid-serial-visual-presentation paradigm with affirmative or negative sentences (e.g., “In the front of the tower there is a/no ghost”) followed by a matching or mismatching picture. Response latencies and event-related potentials (ERPs) were measured during reading and verification. An enhanced negative shift in the ERPs for the subject noun (i.e., “ghost”) in negative, compared to affirmative sentences, was found during reading. We relate this ERP deflection to enhanced processing demands required by the negative particle no. Although this effect suggests a direct impact of negation on language processing, results for picture processing reveal that negation is not immediately integrated into sentence meaning. When the delay of picture presentation was short (250 msec), verification latencies and ERPs evoked by the picture showed a priming effect independent of whether the sentence contained a negation. Unprimed pictures (foreground object not mentioned in the sentence) led to longer latencies and higher N400 amplitudes than primed pictures (foreground object mentioned in the sentence). Main effects of negation showed up only in a late positive-going ERP effect. In contrast, when the delay was long (1500 msec), we observed main effects of truth value and negation in addition to the priming effect already in the N400 time window, that is, negation is fully integrated into sentence meaning only at a later point in the comprehension process. When negation has not yet been integrated, verification decisions appear to be modulated by additional time-consuming reanalysis processes.