Understanding ambiguous words in sentence contexts: Electrophysiological evidence for delayed contextual selection in Broca's aphasia
Swaab, T. Y., Brown, C. M., & Hagoort, P.
Understanding ambiguous words in sentence contexts: Electrophysiological evidence for delayed contextual selection in Broca's aphasia. Neuropsychologia, 36
(8), 737-761. doi:10.1016/S0028-3932(97)00174-7.
This study investigates whether spoken sentence comprehension deficits in Broca's aphasics results from their inability to access the subordinate meaning of ambiguous words (e.g. bank), or alternatively, from a delay in their selection of the contextually appropriate meaning. Twelve Broca's aphasics and twelve elderly controls were presented with lexical ambiguities in three context conditions, each followed by the same target words. In the concordant condition, the sentence context biased the meaning of the sentence final ambiguous word that was related to the target. In the discordant condition, the sentence context biased the meaning of the sentence final ambiguous word that was incompatible with the target.In the unrelated condition, the sentence-final word was unambiguous and unrelated to the target. The task of the subjects was to listen attentively to the stimuli The activational status of the ambiguous sentence-final words was inferred from the amplitude of the N399 to the targets at two inter-stimulus intervals (ISIs) (100 ms and 1250 ms). At the short ISI, the Broca's aphasics showed clear evidence of activation of the subordinate meaning. In contrast to elderly controls, however, the Broca's aphasics were not successful at selecting the appropriate meaning of the ambiguity in the short ISI version of the experiment. But at the long ISI, in accordance with the performance of the elderly controls, the patients were able to successfully complete the contextual selection process. These results indicate that Broca's aphasics are delayed in the process of contextual selection. It is argued that this finding of delayed selection is compatible with the idea that comprehension deficits in Broca's aphasia result from a delay in the process of integrating lexical information.