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How robust are prediction effects in language comprehension? Failure to replicate article-elicited N400 effects

Ito, A., Martin, A. E., & Nieuwland, M. S. (2016). How robust are prediction effects in language comprehension? Failure to replicate article-elicited N400 effects. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience. Advance online publication. doi:10.1080/23273798.2016.1242761.
Current psycholinguistic theory proffers prediction as a central, explanatory mechanism in language processing. However, widely-replicated prediction effects may not mean that prediction is necessary in language processing. As a case in point, C. D. Martin et al. [2013. Bilinguals reading in their second language do not predict upcoming words as native readers do. Journal of Memory and Language, 69 (4), 574 – 588. doi:10.1016/j.jml.2013.08.001] reported ERP evidence for prediction in native- but not in non-native speakers. Articles mismatching an expected noun elicited larger negativity in the N400 time window compared to articles matching the expected noun in native speakers only. We attempted to replicate these findings, but found no evidence for prediction irrespective of language nativeness. We argue that pre-activation of phonological form of upcoming nouns, as evidenced in article-elicited effects, may not be a robust phenomenon. A view of prediction as a necessary computation in language comprehension must be re-evaluated.
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

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