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Elife. 2018 Apr 3;7. pii: e33468. doi: 10.7554/eLife.33468.

Large-scale replication study reveals a limit on probabilistic prediction in language comprehension.

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Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, Netherlands.
School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom.
Department of Chinese and Bilingual Studies, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Kowloon, Hong Kong.
Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom.
School of Psychology, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom.
School of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom.
Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, United Kingdom.
School of Psychology, University of Kent, Canterbury, United Kingdom.
Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, University College London, London, United Kingdom.
Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, London, United Kingdom.
Psychology, Faculty of Natural Sciences, University of Stirling, Stirling, United Kingdom.
Department of Psychology, University of York, York, United Kingdom.


Do people routinely pre-activate the meaning and even the phonological form of upcoming words? The most acclaimed evidence for phonological prediction comes from a 2005 Nature Neuroscience publication by DeLong, Urbach and Kutas, who observed a graded modulation of electrical brain potentials (N400) to nouns and preceding articles by the probability that people use a word to continue the sentence fragment ('cloze'). In our direct replication study spanning 9 laboratories (N=334), pre-registered replication-analyses and exploratory Bayes factor analyses successfully replicated the noun-results but, crucially, not the article-results. Pre-registered single-trial analyses also yielded a statistically significant effect for the nouns but not the articles. Exploratory Bayesian single-trial analyses showed that the article-effect may be non-zero but is likely far smaller than originally reported and too small to observe without very large sample sizes. Our results do not support the view that readers routinely pre-activate the phonological form of predictable words.


N400; human; language comprehension; neuroscience; prediction

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