Abstract

It is still a matter of debate whether initial analysis of speech is independent of contextual influences or whether meaning can modulate word activation directly. Utilizing event-related brain potentials (ERPs), we tested the neural correlates of speech recognition by presenting sentences that ended with incomplete words, such as To light up the dark she needed her can-. Immediately following the incomplete words, subjects saw visual words that (i) matched form and meaning, such as candle; (ii) matched meaning but not form, such as lantern; (iii) matched form but not meaning, such as candy; or (iv) mismatched form and meaning, such as number. We report ERP evidence for two distinct cohorts of lexical tokens: (a) a left-lateralized effect, the P250, differentiates form-matching words (i, iii) and form-mismatching words (ii, iv); (b) a right-lateralized effect, the P220, differentiates words that match in form and/or meaning (i, ii, iii) from mismatching words (iv). Lastly, fully matching words (i) reduce the amplitude of the N400. These results accommodate bottom-up and top-down accounts of human speech recognition. They suggest that neural representations of form and meaning are activated independently early on and are integrated at a later stage during sentence comprehension.

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