The N400 in processing repeated name and pronoun anaphors in sentences and discourse


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Abstract

HighlightsBoth pronoun and repeated name anaphors elicit N400 that vary in scalp topography.Pronoun and repeated name anaphors with conjoined antecedents elicit Nref/LAN.The N400 reflects reference likelihood regardless of reference form.The Nref/LAN shows that conjoined NPs introduce multiple possible antecedents.Suggest a parietal role in reference tracking and frontal in reference ambiguity.We report two EEG/ERP experiments that examined processing of repeated name (e.g., Bill; Experiment 1) and pronoun (e.g., he; Experiment 2) subject anaphors to single antecedents (e.g., Bill) and to antecedents embedded in a conjunction (e.g., Bill and Mary) within sentences and discourses. Experiment 1 replicated previous reports of repeated references to single antecedents eliciting greater N400 negativity than repeated references to conjoined antecedents within sentences, and extended these results to cross-sentence (discourse) references. Experiment 2 found that pronouns also elicited greater N400 negativity following single than conjoined antecedents. In both experiments, references to conjoined antecedents elicited greater frontal negativity than references to single antecedents in both sentences and discourse. Our results indicate that, in processing subject anaphors, the N400 is an index of reference predictability rather than a marker of the fit between antecedent salience and reference form, and that frontal negativity marks referential ambiguity elicited by conjoined phrases.

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