Poster C29, Friday, August 17, 10:30 am – 12:15 pm, Room 2000AB

Watching the brain during the acquisition of new words with rich and poor meaning: Electrophysiological evidence

Roberto Ferreira1, Patricia Román2, Ton Dijkstra3;1Universidad Católica de la Santísima Concepción, 2Universidad Loyola Andalucía, 3Donders Centre for Cognition, Radboud University

Words can have a more or less rich meaning. Amount of word meaning is referred to as semantic richness. It can be measured by semantic variables, such a concreteness, number of senses, and number of semantic features. Words with rich meaning are processed faster than semantically poor words in several tasks, including naming, lexical decision, and semantic categorization (Borowsky & Masson, 1996; Pexman et al., 2002; Recchia & Jones, 2012; Yap et al., 2012). However, ERP findings are mixed, with some studies showing higher N400 for words with low number of features (Kounios et al., 2009) and others displaying the opposite pattern (Rabovsky et al., 2012). Research has focused primarily on familiar word processing and much less on the effect of semantic richness on novel word learning. However, a word learning paradigm can clarify the mapping of new word forms onto available semantic information, and better control for confounding variables. We investigated the acquisition of novel words associated with many and few semantic features over successive presentations. Twenty-three proficient Dutch-English speakers were presented with English nonwords (e.g., hoaf, luspy) followed by a sentence that described their meaning using few semantic features (e.g., has leaves and branches) or many (e.g., is black, brown or white, and is domestic). Each novel word was presented seven times with simultaneous EEG-recordings. The number of semantic features (NoSF) of the novel words modulated word learning as reflected in N400 and LPC. N400 amplitude was higher for novel words associated with many semantic features during learning. This might reflect more effortful processing, harder access to meaning, or increased difficulty during semantic integration. LPC was reduced for words linked to many features. This may indicate more difficulty in conscious semantic access and evaluation of new words during learning. These findings suggest that semantic richness, as measured using NoSF, does not play a facilitatory role during novel word learning, but rather increases the challenge for the brain to map new word forms onto available semantic features.

Topic Area: Meaning: Lexical Semantics

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