Topic structure affects semantic integration: Evidence from event-related potentials

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Abstract

This study investigated whether semantic integration in discourse context could be influenced by topic structure using event-related brain potentials. Participants read discourses in which the last sentence contained a critical word that was either congruent or incongruent with the topic established in the first sentence. The intervening sentences between the first and the last sentence of the discourse either maintained or shifted the original topic. Results showed that incongruent words in topic-maintained discourses elicited an N400 effect that was broadly distributed over the scalp while those in topic-shifted discourses elicited an N400 effect that was lateralized to the right hemisphere and localized over central and posterior areas. Moreover, a late positivity effect was only elicited by incongruent words in topic-shifted discourses, but not in topic-maintained discourses. This suggests an important role for discourse structure in semantic integration, such that compared with topic-maintained discourses, the complexity of discourse structure in topic-shifted condition reduces the initial stage of semantic integration and enhances the later stage in which a mental representation is updated. © 2013 Yang et al.

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Yang, X., Chen, X., Chen, S., Xu, X., & Yang, Y. (2013). Topic structure affects semantic integration: Evidence from event-related potentials. PLoS ONE, 8(12). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0079734

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