Christina Papoutsi


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  • Papoutsi*, C., Zimianiti*, E., Bosker, H. R., & Frost, R. L. A. (in press). Statistical learning at a virtual cocktail party. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.


    * These two authors contributed equally to this study
    Statistical learning – the ability to extract distributional regularities from input – is suggested to be key to language acquisition. Yet, evidence for the human capacity for statistical learning comes mainly from studies conducted in carefully controlled settings without auditory distraction. While such conditions permit careful examination of learning, they do not reflect the naturalistic language learning experience, which is replete with auditory distraction – including competing talkers. Here, we examine how statistical language learning proceeds in a virtual cocktail party environment, where the to-be-learned input is presented alongside a competing speech stream with its own distributional regularities. During exposure, participants in the Dual Talker group concurrently heard two novel languages, one produced by a female talker and one by a male talker, with each talker virtually positioned at opposite sides of the listener (left/right) using binaural acoustic manipulations. Selective attention was manipulated by instructing participants to attend to only one of the two talkers. At test, participants were asked to distinguish words from part-words for both the attended and the unattended languages. Results indicated that participants’ accuracy was significantly higher for trials from the attended vs. unattended
    language. Further, the performance of this Dual Talker group was no different compared to a control group who heard only one language from a single talker (Single Talker group). We thus conclude that statistical learning is modulated by selective attention, being relatively robust against the additional cognitive load provided by competing speech, emphasizing its efficiency in naturalistic language learning situations.
  • Hustá, C., Zheng, X., Papoutsi, C., & Piai, V. (2021). Electrophysiological signatures of conceptual and lexical retrieval from semantic memory. Neuropsychologia, 161: 107988. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2021.107988.


    Retrieval from semantic memory of conceptual and lexical information is essential for producing speech. It is unclear whether there are differences in the neural mechanisms of conceptual and lexical retrieval when spreading activation through semantic memory is initiated by verbal or nonverbal settings. The same twenty participants took part in two EEG experiments. The first experiment examined conceptual and lexical retrieval following nonverbal settings, whereas the second experiment was a replication of previous studies examining conceptual and lexical retrieval following verbal settings. Target pictures were presented after constraining and nonconstraining contexts. In the nonverbal settings, contexts were provided as two priming pictures (e.g., constraining: nest, feather; nonconstraining: anchor, lipstick; target picture: BIRD). In the verbal settings, contexts were provided as sentences (e.g., constraining: “The farmer milked a...”; nonconstraining: “The child drew a...”; target picture: COW). Target pictures were named faster following constraining contexts in both experiments, indicating that conceptual preparation starts before target picture onset in constraining conditions. In the verbal experiment, we replicated the alpha-beta power decreases in constraining relative to nonconstraining conditions before target picture onset. No such power decreases were found in the nonverbal experiment. Power decreases in constraining relative to nonconstraining conditions were significantly different between experiments. Our findings suggest that participants engage in conceptual preparation following verbal and nonverbal settings, albeit differently. The retrieval of a target word, initiated by verbal settings, is associated with alpha-beta power decreases. By contrast, broad conceptual preparation alone, prompted by nonverbal settings, does not seem enough to elicit alpha-beta power decreases. These findings have implications for theories of oscillations and semantic memory.

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