The extent to which the brain predicts upcoming information during language processing remains controversial. To shed light on this debate, the present study reanalyzed [Nieuwland, M. S., Politzer-Ahles, S., Heyselaar, E., Segaert, K., Darley, E., Kazanina, N., et al. Large-scale replication study reveals a limit on probabilistic prediction in language comprehension. eLife, 7, e33468, 2018] replication of [DeLong, K. A., Urbach, T. P., & Kutas, M. Probabilistic word pre-activation during language comprehension inferred from electrical brain activity. Nature Neuroscience, 8, 1117–1121, 2005]. Participants (n = 356) viewed sentences containing articles and nouns of varying predictability, while their EEG was recorded. We measured ERPs preceding the critical words (namely, the semantic prediction potential), in conjunction with postword N400 patterns and individual neural metrics. ERP activity was compared with two measures of word predictability: cloze probability and lexical surprisal. In contrast to prior literature, semantic prediction potential amplitudes did not increase as cloze probability increased, suggesting that the component may not reflect prediction during natural language processing. Initial N400 results at the article provided evidence against phonological prediction in language, in line with Nieuwland and colleagues' findings. Strikingly, however, when the surprisal of the prior words in the sentence was included in the analysis, increases in article surprisal were associated with increased N400 amplitudes, consistent with prediction accounts. This relationship between surprisal and N400 amplitude was not observed when the surprisal of the two prior words was low, suggesting that expectation violations at the article may be overlooked under highly predictable conditions. Individual alpha frequency also modulated the relationship between article surprisal and the N400, emphasizing the importance of individual neural factors for prediction. The present study extends upon existing neurocognitive models of language and prediction more generally, by illuminating the flexible and subject-specific nature of predictive processing.

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