Rabs, Elisabeth; Delogu, Francesca; Drenhaus, Heiner; Crocker, Matthew W.

Situational expectancy or association? The influence of event knowledge on the N400

Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, Routledge, pp. 1-19, 2022.

Electrophysiological studies suggest that situational event knowledge plays an important role in language processing, but often fail to distinguish whether observed effects are driven by combinatorial expectations, or simple association with the context. In two ERP experiments, participants read short discourses describing ongoing events. We manipulated the situational expectancy of the target word continuing the event as well as the presence of an associated, but inactive event in the context. In both experiments we find an N400 effect for unexpected compared to expected target words, but this effect is significantly attenuated when the unexpected target is nonetheless associated with non-occurring context events. Our findings demonstrate that the N400 is simultaneously influenced by both simple association with – and combinatorial expectations derived from – situational event knowledge. Thus, experimental investigations and comprehension models of the use of event knowledge must accommodate the role of both expectancy and association in electrophysiological measures.