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PhD Defence Lin Wang on October 11
How do people make use of information structure to guide their communication? Or, how does information structure influence the depth of semantic and syntactic aspects of language processing? People seem to recruit more attentional resources to the most relevant (focused) information, Lin Wang discovered during her dissertation research at MPI's Neurobiology of Language Department. On October 11 at 15:30, in the Radboud University aula she will defend her thesis 'The influence of information structure on language comprehension: A neurocognitive perspective'.
October 5, 2011
During communication, people can use information structure to highlight the most relevant information. Information structure (IS for short) divides the information into two parts: focus and background. Focus marks the important information, while background is the information that interlocutors already share.
ERP and fMRI experiments
In her dissertation research, Lin Wang investigated the cognitive function of information structure during language comprehension from a neurocognitive perspective. Wang conducted three ERP experiments to examine the influence of IS on both semantic and syntactic processing. She also did an fMRI experiment to investigate the neuronal correlates of information structure in modulating semantic processing.
The ERP studies showed that focused information produced a larger N400 (elicited by semantic incongruence) brain response than non-focused information. Focused information also elicited a P600 effect in salient and subtle syntactic violations. In the latter, however, no P600 effect was found for non-focused information. The fMRI study further suggested that information structure triggers a domain-general attention network and that the activation of the attention network is sensitive to linguistic content.
Shallow is good enough
Wang concludes that information structure modulates both semantic and syntactic processing. "People recruit more attentional resources to the most relevant information. Language is processed in a 'good enough' manner, implying that people sometimes engage in shallow processing and achieve incomplete representations."