During language processing, people make rapid use of contextual information to promote comprehension of upcoming words. When new words are learned implicitly, information contained in the surrounding context can provide constraints on their possible meaning. In the current study, EEG was recorded as participants listened to a series of three sentences, each containing an identical target pseudoword, with the aim of using contextual information in the surrounding language to identify a meaning representation for the novel word. In half of the trials, sentences were semantically coherent so that participants could develop a single representation for the novel word that fit all contexts. Other trials contained unrelated sentence contexts so that meaning associations were not possible. We observed greater theta band enhancement over the left hemisphere across central and posterior electrodes in response to pseudowords processed across semantically related compared to unrelated contexts. Additionally, relative alpha and beta band suppression was increased prior to pseudoword onset in trials where contextual information more readily promoted pseudoword meaning associations. Under the hypothesis that theta enhancement indexes processing demands during lexical access, the current study provides evidence for selective online memory retrieval for novel words learned implicitly in a spoken context.
A longstanding debate has surrounded the role of the motor system in speech perception, but progress in this area has been limited by tasks that only examine isolated syllables and conflate decision-making with perception. Using an adaptive task that temporally isolates perception from decision-making, we examined an EEG signature of motor activity (sensorimotor μ/beta suppression) during the perception of auditory phonemes, auditory words, audiovisual words, and environmental sounds while holding difficulty constant at two levels (Easy/Hard). Results revealed left-lateralized sensorimotor μ/beta suppression that was related to perception of speech but not environmental sounds. Audiovisual word and phoneme stimuli showed enhanced left sensorimotor μ/beta suppression for correct relative to incorrect trials, while auditory word stimuli showed enhanced suppression for incorrect trials. Our results demonstrate that motor involvement in perception is left-lateralized, is specific to speech stimuli, and it not simply the result of domain-general processes. These results provide evidence for an interactive network for speech perception in which dorsal stream motor areas are dynamically engaged during the perception of speech depending on the characteristics of the speech signal. Crucially, this motor engagement has different effects on the perceptual outcome depending on the lexicality and modality of the speech stimulus.
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- Communications Biology
- Nature Publishing Group
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- National Science Foundation
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