Additive effects of repetition and predictability on lexical semantic processing during comprehension

Wing Yee Chow, Sol Lago, Shannon Barrios, Dan Parker, Giovanna Morini, and Ellen Lau

Previous research has shown that neural responses to words during sentence comprehension are sensitive to both lexical repetition and a word’s predictability in context. While previous research has often contrasted the effects of these variables (e.g. by looking at cases in which word repetition violates sentence-level constraints), little is known about how they work in tandem. In the current study we examine how recent exposure to a word and its predictability in context combine to impact lexical semantic processing. We devise a novel paradigm that combines reading comprehension with a recognition memory task, allowing for an orthogonal manipulation of a word’s predictability and its repetition status. Using event-related brain potentials (ERPs), we show that word repetition and predictability have qualitatively similar and additive effects on the N400 amplitude. We propose that prior exposure to a word and predictability impact lexical semantic processing in an additive and independent fashion.