Falk Huettig


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  • De Groot, F., Huettig, F., & Olivers, C. (2015). When meaning matters: The temporal dynamics of semantic influences on visual attention. Poster presented at the Psychonomic Society's 56th Annual Meeting, Chicago, USA.
  • de Groot, F., Huettig, F., & Olivers, C. (2015). When meaning matters: The temporal dynamics of semantic influences on visual attention. Poster presented at the 19th Meeting of the European Society for Cognitive Psychology (ESCoP 2015), Paphos, Cyprus.
  • Hintz, F., Meyer, A. S., & Huettig, F. (2015). Doing a production task encourages prediction: Evidence from interleaved object naming and sentence reading. Poster presented at the 28th Annual CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing, Los Angeles (CA, USA).


    Prominent theories of predictive language processing assume that language production processes are used to anticipate upcoming linguistic input during comprehension (Dell & Chang, 2014; Pickering & Garrod, 2013). Here, we explored the converse case: Does a task set including production in addition to comprehension encourage prediction, compared to a task only including comprehension? To test this hypothesis, participants carried out a cross-modal naming task (Exp 1a), a self-paced reading task (Exp1 b) that did not include overt production, and a task (Exp 1c) in which naming and reading trials were evenly interleaved. We used the same predictable (N = 40) and non-predictable (N = 40) sentences in all three tasks. The sentences consisted of a fixed agent, a transitive verb and a predictable or non-predictable target word (The man breaks a glass vs. The man borrows a glass). The mean cloze probability in the predictable sentences was .39 (ranging from .06 to .8; zero in the non-predictable sentences). A total of 162 volunteers took part in the experiment which was run in a between-participants design. In Exp 1a, fifty-four participants listened to recordings of the sentences which ended right before the spoken target word. Coinciding with the end of the playback, a picture of the target word was shown which the participants were asked to name as fast as possible. Analyses of their naming latencies revealed a statistically significant naming advantage of 108 ms on predictable over non-predictable trials. Moreover, we found that the objects’ naming advantage was predicted by the target words’ cloze probability in the sentences (r = .347, p = .038). In Exp 1b, 54 participants were asked to read the same sentences in a self-paced fashion. To allow for testing of potential spillover effects, we added a neutral prepositional phrase (breaks a glass from the collection/borrows a glass from the neighbor) to each sentence. The sentences were read word-by-word, advancing by pushing the space bar. On 30% of the trials, comprehension questions were used to keep up participants' focus on comprehending the sentences. Analyses of their spillover region reading times revealed a numerical advantage (8 ms; tspillover = -1.1, n.s.) in the predictable as compared to the non-predictable condition. Importantly, the analysis of participants' responses to the comprehension questions, showed that they understood the sentences (mean accuracy = 93%). In Exp 1c, the task comprised 50% naming trials and 50% reading trials which appeared in random order. Fifty-four participants named and read the same objects and sentences as in the previous versions. The results showed a naming advantage on predictable over non-predictable items (99 ms) and a positive correlation between the items’ cloze probability and their naming advantage (r = .322, p = .055). Crucially, the post-target reading time analysis showed that with naming trials and reading trials interleaved, there was also a statistically reliable prediction effect on reading trials. Participants were 19 ms faster at reading the spillover region on predictable relative to non-predictable items (tspillover = -2.624). To summarize, although we used the same sentences in all sub-experiments, we observed effects of prediction only when the task set involved production. In the reading only experiment (Exp 1b), no evidence for anticipation was obtained although participants clearly understood the sentences and the same sentences yielded reading facilitation when interleaved with naming trials (Exp 1c). This suggests that predictive language processing can be modulated by the comprehenders’ task set. When the task set involves language production, as is often the case in natural conversation, comprehenders appear to engage in prediction to a stronger degree than in pure comprehension tasks. In our discussion, we will discuss the notion that language production may engage prediction, because being able to predict words another person is about to say might optimize the comprehension process and enable smooth turn-taking.
  • Hintz, F., Meyer, A. S., & Huettig, F. (2015). Event knowledge and word associations jointly influence predictive processing during discourse comprehension. Poster presented at the 28th Annual CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing, Los Angeles (CA, USA).


    A substantial body of literature has shown that readers and listeners often anticipate information. An open question concerns the mechanisms underlying predictive language processing. Multiple mechanisms have been suggested. One proposal is that comprehenders use event knowledge to predict upcoming words. Other theoretical frameworks propose that predictions are made based on simple word associations. In a recent EEG study, Metusalem and colleagues reported evidence for the modulating influence of event knowledge on prediction. They examined the degree to which event knowledge is activated during sentence comprehension. Their participants read two sentences, establishing an event scenario, which were followed by a final sentence containing one of three target words: a highly expected word, a semantically unexpected word that was related to the described event, or a semantically unexpected and event-unrelated word (see Figure, for an example). Analyses of participants’ ERPs elicited by the target words revealed a three-way split with regard to the amplitude of the N400 elicited by the different types of target: the expected targets elicited the smallest N400, the unexpected and event-unrelated targets elicited the largest N400. Importantly, the amplitude of the N400 elicited by the unexpected but event-related targets was significantly attenuated relative to the amplitude of the N400 elicited by the unexpected and event-unrelated targets. Metusalem et al. concluded that event knowledge is immediately available to constrain on-line language processing. Based on a post-hoc analysis, the authors rejected the possibility that the results could be explained by simple word associations. In the present study, we addressed the role of simple word associations in discourse comprehension more directly. Specifically, we explored the contribution of associative priming to the graded N400 pattern seen in Metusalem et al’s study. We conducted two EEG experiments. In Experiment 1, we reran Metusalem and colleagues’ context manipulation and closely replicated their results. In Experiment 2, we selected two words from the event-establishing sentences which were most strongly associated with the unexpected but event-related targets in the final sentences. Each of the two associates was then placed in a neutral carrier sentence. We controlled that none of the other words in these carrier sentences was associatively related to the target words. Importantly, the two carrier sentences did not build up a coherent event. We recorded EEG while participants read the carrier sentences followed by the same final sentences as in Experiment 1. The results showed that as in Experiment 1 the amplitude of the N400 elicited by both types of unexpected target words was larger than the N400 elicited by the highly expected target. Moreover, we found a global tendency towards the critical difference between event-related and event-unrelated unexpected targets which reached statistical significance only at parietal electrodes over the right hemisphere. Because the difference between event-related and event-unrelated conditions was larger when the sentences formed a coherent event compared to when they did not, our results suggest that associative priming alone cannot account for the N400 pattern observed in our Experiment 1 (and in the study by Metusalem et al.). However, because part of the effect remained, probably due to associative facilitation, the findings demonstrate that during discourse reading both event knowledge activation and simple word associations jointly contribute to the prediction process. The results highlight that multiple mechanisms underlie predictive language processing.
  • Huettig, F., & Guerra, E. (2015). Testing the limits of prediction in language processing: Prediction occurs but far from always. Poster presented at the 21st Annual Conference on Architectures and Mechanisms for Language Processing (AMLaP 2015), Valetta, Malta.
  • Ostarek, M., & Huettig, F. (2015). Grounding language in the visual system: Visual noise interferes more with concrete than abstract word processing. Poster presented at the 19th Meeting of the European Society for Cognitive Psychology (ESCoP 2015), Paphos, Cyprus.

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