Antecedent access mechanisms in pronoun processing: Evidence from the N400

Sol Lago, Anna Namyst, Lena Jäger, Ellen Lau

Previous cross-modal priming studies showed that lexical decisions to words after a pronoun were facilitated when these words were semantically related to the pronoun’s antecedent. These studies suggested that semantic priming effectively measured antecedent retrieval during coreference. We examined whether these effects extended to implicit reading comprehension using the N400 response. The results of three experiments did not yield strong evidence of semantic facilitation due to coreference. Further, the comparison with two additional experiments showed that N400 facilitation effects were reduced in sentences (vs. word pair paradigms) and were modulated by the case morphology of the prime word. We propose that priming effects in cross-modal experiments may have resulted from task-related strategies. More generally, the impact of sentence context and morphological information on priming effects suggests that they may depend on the extent to which the upcoming input is predicted, rather than automatic spreading activation between semantically related words.