Staudte, Maria; Ankener, Christine; Drenhaus, Heiner; Crocker, Matthew W.

Graded expectations in visually situated comprehension: Costs and benefits as indexed by the N400

Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 28, Springer, pp. 624-631, 2021.

Recently, Ankener et al. (Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 2387, 2018) presented a visual world study which combined both attention and pupillary measures to demonstrate that anticipating a target results in lower effort to integrate that target (noun). However, they found no indication that the anticipatory processes themselves, i.e., the reduction of uncertainty about upcoming referents, results in processing effort (cf. Linzen and Jaeger, Cognitive Science, 40(6), 1382–1411, 2016). In contrast, Maess et al. (Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 10, 1–11, 2016) found that more constraining verbs elicited a higher N400 amplitude than unconstraining verbs. The aim of the present study was therefore twofold: Firstly, we examined whether the graded ICA effect, which was previously found on the noun as a result of a likelihood manipulation, replicates in ERP measures. Secondly, we set out to investigate whether the processes leading to the generation of expectations (derived during verb and scene processing) induce an N400 modulation. Our results confirm that visual context is combined with the verb’s meaning to establish expectations about upcoming nouns and that these expectations affect the retrieval of the upcoming noun (modulated N400 on the noun). Importantly, however, we find no evidence for different costs in generating more or less specific expectations for upcoming nouns. Thus, the benefits of generating expectations are not associated with any costs in situated language comprehension.