Abstract

Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were recorded from 13 scalp electrodes while subjects read sentences, some of which contained either a verb that disagreed in number with the subject noun (syntactic anomaly) or a word in uppercase letters (physical anomaly). Uppercase words elicited the P300 complex of positivities, whereas agreement violations elicited a late positive shift with an onset around 500 msec and a duration of several hundred msec. These effects differed in their morphology, temporal course, amplitude, and scalp distribution. Furthermore, manipulations of the probability-of-occurrence and task relevance of the anomalies had robust effects on the response to uppercase words, but not on the response to agreement violations. Finally, these anomalies had additive effects when agreement-violating uppercase (doubly anomalous) words were presented. These results are taken to be an initial indication that the positive shift elicited by agreement violations is distinct from the P300 response to unexpected, task-relevant anomalies that do not involve the violation of a grammatical rule.

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