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Orthographic familiarity, phonological legality and number of orthographic neighbours affect the onset of ERP lexical effects

DOI: 10.1186/1744-9081-4-27

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ERPs were recorded from 128 sites in 16 Italian University students engaged in a lexical decision task. Stimuli were 100 words, 100 quasi-words (obtained by the replacement of a single letter), 100 pseudo-words (non-derived) and 100 illegal letter strings. All stimuli were balanced for length; words and quasi-words were also balanced for frequency of use, domain of semantic category and imageability. SwLORETA source reconstruction was performed on ERP difference waves of interest.Overall, the data provided evidence that the latency of lexical effects (word/non-word discrimination) varied as a function of the number of a word's orthographic neighbours, being shorter to non-derived than to derived pseudo-words. This suggests some caveats about the use in lexical decision paradigms of quasi-words obtained by transposing or replacing only 1 or 2 letters. Our findings also showed that the left-occipito/temporal area, reflecting the activity of the left fusiform gyrus (BA37) of the temporal lobe, was affected by the visual familiarity of words, thus explaining its lexical sensitivity (word vs. non-word discrimination). The temporo-parietal area was markedly sensitive to phonological legality exhibiting a clear-cut discriminative response between illegal and legal strings as early as 250 ms of latency.The onset of lexical effects in a lexical decision paradigm depends on a series of factors, including orthographic familiarity, degree of global lexical activity, and phonologic legality of non-words.Since the early 80s, one major topic of investigation has been into the exact time the brain takes to access the lexical properties and conceptual meaning of a word, after it has been presented visually or acoustically [1-3]. A lively debate has developed since then [4-6] about the timing of semantic processes, which now seem to be much earlier (150 ms) than previously conceived (about N400 ms), and to occur in parallel (rather than in sequence) with other types of speech/sentenc


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