Nieuwland, M. S., & Van Berkum, J. J. A. (2008). The interplay between semantic and referential aspects of anaphoric noun phrase resolution: Evidence from ERPs. Brain & Language,106, 119-131. doi:10.1016/j.bandl.2008.05.001.
In this event-related brain potential (ERP) study, we examined how semantic and referential aspects of
anaphoric noun phrase resolution interact during discourse comprehension. We used a full factorial
design that crossed referential ambiguity with semantic incoherence. Ambiguous anaphors elicited a sustained
negative shift (Nref effect), and incoherent anaphors elicited an N400 effect. Simultaneously
ambiguous and incoherent anaphors elicited an ERP pattern resembling that of the incoherent anaphors.
These results suggest that semantic incoherence can preclude readers from engaging in anaphoric inferencing.
Furthermore, approximately half of our participants unexpectedly showed common late positive
effects to the three types of problematic anaphors. We relate the latter finding to recent accounts of what
the P600 might reflect, and to the role of individual differences therein.