Is beta in agreement with the relatives? Using relative clause sentences to investigateMEGbeta power dynamics during sentence comprehension
Lewis, A. G., Schoffelen, J.-M., Bastiaansen, M., & Schriefers, H.
Is beta in agreement with the relatives? Using relative clause sentences to investigateMEGbeta power dynamics during sentence comprehension. Psychophysiology. Advance online publication
There remains some debate about whether beta power effects observed during sentence comprehension reflect ongoing syntactic unification operations (beta-syntax hypothesis), or instead reflect maintenance or updating of the sentence-level representation (beta-maintenance hypothesis). In this study, we used magnetoencephalography to investigate beta power neural dynamics while participants read relative clause sentences that were initially ambiguous between a subject- or an object-relative reading. An additional condition included a grammatical violation at the disambiguation point in the relative clause sentences. The beta-maintenance hypothesis predicts a decrease in beta power at the disambiguation point for unexpected (and less preferred) object-relative clause sentences and grammatical violations, as both signal a need to update the sentence-level representation. While the beta-syntax hypothesis also predicts a beta power decrease for grammatical violations due to a disruption of syntactic unification operations, it instead predicts an increase in beta power for the object-relative clause condition because syntactic unification at the point of disambiguation becomes more demanding. We observed decreased beta power for both the agreement violation and object-relative clause conditions in typical left hemisphere language regions, which provides compelling support for the beta-maintenance hypothesis. Mid-frontal theta power effects were also present for grammatical violations and object-relative clause sentences, suggesting that violations and unexpected sentence interpretations are registered as conflicts by the brain's domain-general error detection system.