Lexical Processing as Revealed by Lateralized Event-Related Brain Potentials

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Neurocognitive models of written-word processing from low-level perceptual up to semantic analysis include the notion of a strongly left-lateralized posterior-to-anterior stream of activation. Two left-lateralized components in the event-related brain potential (ERP), N170 and temporo-parietal PSA (posterior semantic asymmetry; peak at 300 ms), have been suggested to reflect sublexical analysis and semantic processing, respectively. However, for intermediate processing steps, such as lexical access, no posterior left-lateralized ERP signature has yet been observed under single-word reading conditions. In combination with a recognition task, lexicality and depth of processing were varied. Left-minus-right difference ERPs optimally suited to accentuate left-lateralized language processes revealed an occipito-temporal processing negativity (210–270 ms) for all stimuli except alphanumerical strings. This asymmetry showed greater sensitivity to the combined effects of attention and lexicality than other ERPs in this time range (i.e., N170, P1, and P2). It is therefore introduced as “lexical asymmetry.”

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