Aurnhammer, Christoph; Delogu, Francesca; Schulz, Miriam; Brouwer, Harm; Crocker, Matthew W.

Retrieval (N400) and Integration (P600) in Expectation-based Comprehension

PLoS ONE, 16, pp. e0257430, 2021.

Expectation-based theories of language processing, such as Surprisal theory, are supported by evidence of anticipation effects in both behavioural and neurophysiological measures. Online measures of language processing, however, are known to be influenced by factors such as lexical association that are distinct from—but often confounded with—expectancy. An open question therefore is whether a specific locus of expectancy related effects can be established in neural and behavioral processing correlates. We address this question in an event-related potential experiment and a self-paced reading experiment that independently cross expectancy and lexical association in a context manipulation design. We find that event-related potentials reveal that the N400 is sensitive to both expectancy and lexical association, while the P600 is modulated only by expectancy. Reading times, in turn, reveal effects of both association and expectancy in the first spillover region, followed by effects of expectancy alone in the second spillover region. These findings are consistent with the Retrieval-Integration account of language comprehension, according to which lexical retrieval (N400) is facilitated for words that are both expected and associated, whereas integration difficulty (P600) will be greater for unexpected words alone. Further, an exploratory analysis suggests that the P600 is not merely sensitive to expectancy violations, but rather, that there is a continuous relation. Taken together, these results suggest that the P600, like reading times, may reflect a meaning-centric notion of Surprisal in language comprehension.