Gender electrified: ERP evidence on the syntactic nature of gender processing

Hagoort, P., & Brown, C. M. (1999). Gender electrified: ERP evidence on the syntactic nature of gender processing. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 28(6), 715-728. doi:10.1023/A:1023277213129.
The central issue of this study concerns the claim that the processing of gender agreement in online sentence comprehension is a syntactic rather than a conceptual/semantic process. This claim was tested for the grammatical gender agreement in Dutch between the definite article and the noun. Subjects read sentences in which the definite article and the noun had the same gender and sentences in which the gender agreement was violated, While subjects read these sentences, their electrophysiological activity was recorded via electrodes placed on the scalp. Earlier research has shown that semantic and syntactic processing events manifest themselves in different event-related brain potential (ERP) effects. Semantic integration modulates the amplitude of the so-called N400.The P600/SPS is an ERP effect that is more sensitive to syntactic processes. The violation of grammatical gender agreement was found to result in a P600/SPS. For violations in sentence-final position, an additional increase of the N400 amplitude was observed. This N400 effect is interpreted as resulting from the consequence of a syntactic violation for the sentence-final wrap-up. The overall pattern of results supports the claim that the on-line processing of gender agreement information is not a content driven but a syntactic-form driven process.
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