Modality effects in implicit artificial grammar learning: An EEG study

Silva, S., Folia, V., Inácio, F., Castro, S. L., & Petersson, K. M. (2018). Modality effects in implicit artificial grammar learning: An EEG study. Brain Research, 1687, 50-59. doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2018.02.020.
Recently, it has been proposed that sequence learning engages a combination of modality-specific operating networks and modality-independent computational principles. In the present study, we compared the behavioural and EEG outcomes of implicit artificial grammar learning in the visual vs. auditory modality. We controlled for the influence of surface characteristics of sequences (Associative Chunk Strength), thus focusing on the strictly structural aspects of sequence learning, and we adapted the paradigms to compensate for known frailties of the visual modality compared to audition (temporal presentation, fast presentation rate). The behavioural outcomes were similar across modalities. Favouring the idea of modality-specificity, ERPs in response to grammar violations differed in topography and latency (earlier and more anterior component in the visual modality), and ERPs in response to surface features emerged only in the auditory modality. In favour of modality-independence, we observed three common functional properties in the late ERPs of the two grammars: both were free of interactions between structural and surface influences, both were more extended in a grammaticality classification test than in a preference classification test, and both correlated positively and strongly with theta event-related-synchronization during baseline testing. Our findings support the idea of modality-specificity combined with modality-independence, and suggest that memory for visual vs. auditory sequences may largely contribute to cross-modal differences.
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