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Poster E34, Saturday, August 18, 3:00 – 4:45 pm, Room 2000AB

Rapid meaning access to newly learned words: Evidence from an ERP study

Xiaoping Fang1,2, Charles Perfetti1,2;1University of Pittsburgh, 2Center for Neural Basis of Cognition

Previous studies have shown that meaning access to novel words can become automatic, especially after overnight consolidation. This is usually indicated by the emergence of semantic priming or interference between novel and existing words one or more than one day following the initial learning. The current study aimed to examine the automaticity of meaning access in a more direct way through observing ERPs to novel words that were assigned sensor-motor meanings. While previous studies have used pictures or videos to provide direct sensorimotor input, we taught the novel words with definitions. Participants learned novel words associated with either action or non-action (i.e., static visual) meanings across multiple sessions of training over three days, reaching ceiling performance in both cued-recall and recognition tests. On the fourth day, they performed a meaning judgment task on novel words and existing words presented in auditory modality while ERPs were recorded. The results showed an early semantic effect among novel words, as indicated by a larger negativity for action words than non-action words within N1 and P2 time windows. In contrast, the effect emerged relatively later in existing words (after 300ms). Although novel words and existing words overall were indistinguishable before 500ms, we observed larger frontal negativity and parietal positivity for novel words than existing words within 500-700ms. While the difference in the latency of semantic effects between novel and existing words is likely to be driven by the difference in the uniqueness point of spoken words, the very early effect observed on novel words suggests that specific meaning features are activated rapidly (and arguably automatically) during the processing of the spoken word even though meanings had been learned through definitions. Furthermore, episodic retrieval (observed in a later time window) is involved when such activation is not sufficient to support confident meaning judgments about novel words.

Topic Area: Meaning: Lexical Semantics