Memory effects in syntactic ERP tasks

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Abstract

The study presented here investigated the role of memory in normal sentence processing by looking at ERP effects to normal sentences and sentences containing grammatical violations. Sentences where the critical word was in the middle of the sentence were compared to sentences where the critical word always occurred in sentence-final position. Grammaticality judgments were required at the end of the sentence. While the violations in both conditions result in the expected increase in the P600 component (reflecting the fact that the syntactic violation is being processed), the sentences with the sentence-medial critical word also result in a late frontal negativity effect. It is hypothesized that this effect is due to greater memory requirements that are needed to keep the violation in mind until a response can be made at the end of the sentence. The maintenance of the decision that a sentence is ungrammatical must be kept in memory longer for sentence-medial violations as opposed to when the violation occurs at the end of the sentence (immediately preceding the moment at which the judgment can be made).

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