P3 event-related brain potential reflects allocation and use of central processing capacity in language production

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Abstract

Allocation and use of central processing capacity have been associated with the P3 event-related brain potential amplitude in a large variety of non-linguistic tasks. However, little is known about the P3 in spoken language production. Moreover, the few studies that are available report opposing P3 effects when task complexity is manipulated. We investigated allocation and use of central processing capacity in a spoken phrase production task: Participants switched every second trial between describing pictures using noun phrases with one adjective (size only; simple condition, e.g., “the big desk”) or two adjectives (size and color; complex condition, e.g., “the big red desk”). Capacity allocation was manipulated by complexity, and capacity use by switching. Response time (RT) was longer for complex than for simple trials. Moreover, complexity and switching interacted: RTs were longer on switch than on repeat trials for simple phrases but shorter on switch than on repeat trials for complex phrases. P3 amplitude increased with complexity. Moreover, complexity and switching interacted: The complexity effect was larger on the switch trials than on the repeat trials. These results provide evidence that the allocation and use of central processing capacity in language production are differentially reflected in the P3 amplitude.

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