Native language status of the listener modulates the neural integration of speech and iconic gestures in clear and adverse listening conditions

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Abstract

Native listeners neurally integrate iconic gestures with speech, which can enhance degraded speech comprehension. However, it is unknown how non-native listeners neurally integrate speech and gestures, as they might process visual semantic context differently than natives. We recorded EEG while native and highly-proficient non-native listeners watched videos of an actress uttering an action verb in clear or degraded speech, accompanied by a matching ('to drive'+driving gesture) or mismatching gesture ('to drink'+mixing gesture). Degraded speech elicited an enhanced N400 amplitude compared to clear speech in both groups, revealing an increase in neural resources needed to resolve the spoken input. A larger N400 effect was found in clear speech for non-natives compared to natives, but in degraded speech only for natives. Non-native listeners might thus process gesture more strongly than natives when speech is clear, but need more auditory cues to facilitate access to gestural semantic information when speech is degraded.

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