Abstract

It is still unknown whether sonic environments influence the processing of individual sounds in a similar way as discourse or sentence context influences the processing of individual words. One obstacle to answering this question has been the failure to dissociate perceptual (i.e., how similar are sonic environment and target sound?) and conceptual (i.e., how related are sonic environment and target?) priming effects. In this study, we dissociate these effects by creating prime–target pairs with a purely perceptual or both a perceptual and conceptual relationship. Perceptual prime–target pairs were derived from perceptual–conceptual pairs (i.e., meaningful environmental sounds) by shuffling the spectral composition of primes and targets so as to preserve their perceptual relationship while making them unrecognizable. Hearing both original and shuffled targets elicited a more positive N1/P2 complex in the ERP when targets were related to a preceding prime as compared with unrelated. Only related original targets reduced the N400 amplitude. Related shuffled targets tended to decrease the amplitude of a late temporo-parietal positivity. Taken together, these effects indicate that sonic environments influence first the perceptual and then the conceptual processing of individual sounds. Moreover, the influence on conceptual processing is comparable to the influence linguistic context has on the processing of individual words.

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