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Discourse-level semantic coherence influences beta oscillatory dynamics and the N400 during sentence comprehension

Lewis, A. G., Schoffelen, J.-M., Hoffmann, C., Bastiaansen, M. C. M., & Schriefers, H. (2017). Discourse-level semantic coherence influences beta oscillatory dynamics and the N400 during sentence comprehension. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 32(5), 601-617. doi:10.1080/23273798.2016.1211300.
In this study, we used electroencephalography to investigate the influence of discourse-level semantic coherence on electrophysiological signatures of local sentence-level processing. Participants read groups of four sentences that could either form coherent stories or were semantically unrelated. For semantically coherent discourses compared to incoherent ones, the N400 was smaller at sentences 2–4, while the visual N1 was larger at the third and fourth sentences. Oscillatory activity in the beta frequency range (13–21 Hz) was higher for coherent discourses. We relate the N400 effect to a disruption of local sentence-level semantic processing when sentences are unrelated. Our beta findings can be tentatively related to disruption of local sentence-level syntactic processing, but it cannot be fully ruled out that they are instead (or also) related to disrupted local sentence-level semantic processing. We conclude that manipulating discourse-level semantic coherence does have an effect on oscillatory power related to local sentence-level processing.
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