- Testing the limits of the semantic illusion phenomenon: ERPs reveal temporary semantic change deafness in discourse comprehension
- Cognitive Brain Research
- Volume | Issue number
- 24 | 3
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Psychology Research Institute (PsyRes)
In general, language comprehension is surprisingly reliable. Listeners very rapidly extract meaning from the unfolding speech signal, on a word-by-word basis, and usually successfully. Research on ‘semantic illusions’ however suggests that under certain conditions, people fail to notice that the linguistic input simply doesn't make sense. In the current event-related brain potentials (ERP) study, we examined whether listeners would, under such conditions, spontaneously detect an anomaly in which a human character central to the story at hand (e.g., “a tourist”) was suddenly replaced by an inanimate object (e.g., “a suitcase”). Because this replacement introduced a very powerful coherence break, we expected listeners to immediately notice the anomaly and generate the standard ERP effect associated with incoherent language, the N400 effect. However, instead of the standard N400 effect, anomalous words elicited a positive ERP effect from about 500–600 ms onwards. The absence of an N400 effect suggests that subjects did not immediately notice the anomaly, and that for a few hundred milliseconds the comprehension system has converged on an apparently coherent but factually incorrect interpretation. The presence of the later ERP effect indicates that subjects were processing for comprehension and did ultimately detect the anomaly. Therefore, we take the absence of a regular N400 effect as the online manifestation of a temporary semantic illusion. Our results also show that even attentive listeners sometimes fail to notice a radical change in the nature of a story character, and therefore suggest a case of short-lived ‘semantic change deafness’ in language comprehension.
- go to publisher's site
If you believe that digital publication of certain material infringes any of your rights or (privacy) interests, please let the Library know, stating your reasons. In case of a legitimate complaint, the Library will make the material inaccessible and/or remove it from the website. Please Ask the Library, or send a letter to: Library of the University of Amsterdam, Secretariat, Singel 425, 1012 WP Amsterdam, The Netherlands. You will be contacted as soon as possible.