Activating words beyond the unfolding sentence: Contributions of event simulation and word associations to discourse reading
Hintz, F., Meyer, A. S., & Huettig, F.
Activating words beyond the unfolding sentence: Contributions of event simulation and word associations to discourse reading. Neuropsychologia, 141
: 107409. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2020.107409.
Previous studies have shown that during comprehension readers activate words beyond the unfolding sentence. An open question concerns the mechanisms underlying this behavior. One proposal is that readers mentally simulate the described event and activate related words that might be referred to as the discourse further unfolds. Another proposal is that activation between words spreads in an automatic, associative fashion. The empirical support for these proposals is mixed. Therefore, theoretical accounts differ with regard to how much weight they place on the contributions of these sources to sentence comprehension. In the present study, we attempted to assess the contributions of event simulation and lexical associations to discourse reading, using event-related brain potentials (ERPs). Participants read target words, which were preceded by associatively related words either appearing in a coherent discourse event (Experiment 1) or in sentences that did not form a coherent discourse event (Experiment 2). Contextually unexpected target words that were associatively related to the described events elicited a reduced N400 amplitude compared to contextually unexpected target words that were unrelated to the events (Experiment 1). In Experiment 2, a similar but reduced effect was observed. These findings support the notion that during discourse reading event simulation and simple word associations jointly contribute to language comprehension by activating words that are beyond contextually congruent sentence continuations.