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.