Markus Ostarek


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  • Mantegna, F., Hintz, F., Ostarek, M., Alday, P. M., & Huettig, F. (2019). Distinguishing integration and prediction accounts of ERP N400 modulations in language processing through experimental design. Neuropsychologia, 134: 107199. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2019.107199.


    Prediction of upcoming input is thought to be a main characteristic of language processing (e.g. Altmann & Mirkovic, 2009; Dell & Chang, 2014; Federmeier, 2007; Ferreira & Chantavarin, 2018; Pickering & Gambi, 2018; Hale, 2001; Hickok, 2012; Huettig 2015; Kuperberg & Jaeger, 2016; Levy, 2008; Norris, McQueen, & Cutler, 2016; Pickering & Garrod, 2013; Van Petten & Luka, 2012). One of the main pillars of experimental support for this notion comes from studies that have attempted to measure electrophysiological markers of prediction when participants read or listened to sentences ending in highly predictable words. The N400, a negative-going and centro-parietally distributed component of the ERP occurring approximately 400ms after (target) word onset, has been frequently interpreted as indexing prediction of the word (or the semantic representations and/or the phonological form of the predicted word, see Kutas & Federmeier, 2011; Nieuwland, 2019; Van Petten & Luka, 2012; for review). A major difficulty for interpreting N400 effects in language processing however is that it has been difficult to establish whether N400 target word modulations conclusively reflect prediction rather than (at least partly) ease of integration. In the present exploratory study, we attempted to distinguish lexical prediction (i.e. ‘top-down’ activation) from lexical integration (i.e. ‘bottom-up’ activation) accounts of ERP N400 modulations in language processing.
  • Ostarek, M., Joosen, D., Ishag, A., De Nijs, M., & Huettig, F. (2019). Are visual processes causally involved in “perceptual simulation” effects in the sentence-picture verification task? Cognition, 182, 84-94. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2018.08.017.


    Many studies have shown that sentences implying an object to have a certain shape produce a robust reaction time advantage for shape-matching pictures in the sentence-picture verification task. Typically, this finding has been interpreted as evidence for perceptual simulation, i.e., that access to implicit shape information involves the activation of modality-specific visual processes. It follows from this proposal that disrupting visual processing during sentence comprehension should interfere with perceptual simulation and obliterate the match effect. Here we directly test this hypothesis. Participants listened to sentences while seeing either visual noise that was previously shown to strongly interfere with basic visual processing or a blank screen. Experiments 1 and 2 replicated the match effect but crucially visual noise did not modulate it. When an interference technique was used that targeted high-level semantic processing (Experiment 3) however the match effect vanished. Visual noise specifically targeting high-level visual processes (Experiment 4) only had a minimal effect on the match effect. We conclude that the shape match effect in the sentence-picture verification paradigm is unlikely to rely on perceptual simulation.
  • Ostarek, M., & Huettig, F. (2019). Six challenges for embodiment research. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 28(6), 593-599. doi:10.1177/0963721419866441.


    20 years after Barsalou's seminal perceptual symbols paper (Barsalou, 1999), embodied cognition, the notion that cognition involves simulations of sensory, motor, or affective states, has moved in status from an outlandish proposal advanced by a fringe movement in psychology to a mainstream position adopted by large numbers of researchers in the psychological and cognitive (neuro)sciences. While it has generated highly productive work in the cognitive sciences as a whole, it had a particularly strong impact on research into language comprehension. The view of a mental lexicon based on symbolic word representations, which are arbitrarily linked to sensory aspects of their referents, for example, was generally accepted since the cognitive revolution in the 1950s. This has radically changed. Given the current status of embodiment as a main theory of cognition, it is somewhat surprising that a close look at the state of the affairs in the literature reveals that the debate about the nature of the processes involved in language comprehension is far from settled and key questions remain unanswered. We present several suggestions for a productive way forward.
  • Ostarek, M., Van Paridon, J., & Montero-Melis, G. (2019). Sighted people’s language is not helpful for blind individuals’ acquisition of typical animal colors. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 116(44), 21972-21973. doi:10.1073/pnas.1912302116.

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