Internal mechanisms underlying anticipatory language processing: Evidence from event-related-potentials and neural oscillations

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Although numerous studies have demonstrated that the language processing system can predict upcoming content during comprehension, there is still no clear picture of the anticipatory stage of predictive processing. This electroencephalograph study examined the cognitive and neural oscillatory mechanisms underlying anticipatory processing during language comprehension, and the consequences of this prediction for bottom-up processing of predicted/unpredicted content. Participants read Mandarin Chinese sentences that were either strongly or weakly constraining and that contained critical nouns that were congruent or incongruent with the sentence contexts. We examined the effects of semantic predictability on anticipatory processing prior to the onset of the critical nouns and on integration of the critical nouns. The results revealed that, at the integration stage, the strong-constraint condition (compared to the weak-constraint condition) elicited a reduced N400 and reduced theta activity (4–7 Hz) for the congruent nouns, but induced beta (13–18 Hz) and theta (4–7 Hz) power decreases for the incongruent nouns, indicating benefits of confirmed predictions and potential costs of disconfirmed predictions. More importantly, at the anticipatory stage, the strongly constraining context elicited an enhanced sustained anterior negativity and beta power decrease (19–25 Hz), which indicates that strong prediction places a higher processing load on the anticipatory stage of processing. The differences (in the ease of processing and the underlying neural oscillatory activities) between anticipatory and integration stages of lexical processing were discussed with regard to predictive processing models.

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