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Brain Res. 2018 Apr 15;1685:29-41. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2018.01.029. Epub 2018 Jan 31.

From sublexical facilitation to lexical competition: ERP effects of masked neighbor priming.

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Joint Doctoral Program in Language and Communicative Disorders, San Diego State University & University of California, San Diego, United States. Electronic address:
Laboratoire de Psychologie Cognitive, CNRS & Aix-Marseille University, France.
Department of Psychology, San Diego State University, United States.
School of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, San Diego State University, United States.


Interactive-activation models posit that visual word recognition involves co-activation of orthographic neighbors (e.g., note, node) and competition among them via lateral inhibitory connections. Behavioral evidence of this lexical competition comes from masked priming paradigms, in which target words elicit slower responses when preceded by a neighbor (e.g., note-NODE) than when preceded by an unrelated word (e.g., kiss-NODE). In the present study, we used ERPs to investigate how masked high frequency word primes influence processing of low frequency word and pseudoword targets. Word targets preceded by a neighbor prime elicited larger negativities within the N400 window than those preceded by an unrelated prime across bilateral anterior sites, which we call a reversed N400 priming effect. Consistent with the behavioral literature, the size of the reversed N400 priming effect was larger for targets from high-density orthographic neighborhoods and for participants who scored higher on a behavioral measure of spelling recognition. Indeed, the opposite effect (i.e., smaller negativities within the N400 window for word targets preceded by a neighbor) was observed for words from low-density orthographic neighborhoods and for less-skilled spellers. Traditional priming was also observed within the N250 window for word targets and within both the N250 or N400 windows for pseudoword targets. The specificity of the reversed N400 priming effect to situations in which both words have precise lexical representations suggests that it, like the behavioral interference effect, indexes lexical competition during visual word recognition.


Interactive-activation models; Lexical competition; Masked priming; N400; Orthographic neighbors

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