Contextual modulation of N400 amplitude to lexically ambiguous words.Brain Cogn. 2004 Aug; 55(3):470-8.BC
Though much is known about the N400 component, an event-related EEG potential that is sensitive to semantic manipulations, it is unclear whether modulations of N400 amplitude reflect automatic processing, controlled processing, or both. We examined this issue using a semantic judgment task that manipulated local and global contextual cues. Word triplets (prime-noun-target, e.g., finance-bank-money) were sequentially presented on a computer screen (500 ms duration, 1000 ms stimulus onset asynchrony), in which the second word was a homograph. The first word (prime) created a neutral-, dominant-meaning- or subordinate-meaning-biased "global context," and the third word (target) created a dominant- or subordinate-biased "local context" that was either congruent or incongruent with the "global context" established by the first prime word. Participants were instructed to read all three words but to decide only whether the second and third words were semantically related. Event-related potentials (ERPs), specifically the N400, were recorded to the third terminal word. N400 amplitudes evoked by dominant meaning-related third words incongruent with the globally biased subordinate context (e.g., river-bridge-money) were significantly more negative than dominant endings in neutral contexts (e.g., taxi-bank-money), but not different from unrelated filler triplets. In addition, there was some indication that left hemisphere, temporal-parietal electrode sites were associated with greater N400 negativity for dominant targets in conflicting subordinate global contexts than homologous right hemisphere electrode sites, the latter of which showed significant activation to subordinate meanings in cooperating contexts. Thus, N400 amplitude was more affected by global than local context suggesting that controlled processes may take priority over automatic processes in modulating N400 amplitude, especially for left hemisphere electrode sites.