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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Hum. Neurosci. | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2019.00285

Speed-accuracy tradeoffs in brain and behavior: Testing the independence of P300 and N400 related processes in behavioral responses to sentence categorization

  • 1Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Netherlands
  • 2University of Cologne, Germany
  • 3Institute of German Language and Literature I, Faculty of Arts, University of Cologne, Germany

Although the N400 was originally discovered in a paradigm designed to elicit a P300 (Kutas & Hillyard 1980), its relationship with the P300 and how both overlapping ERPs determine behavioral profiles is still elusive. Here we conducted an ERP (N=20) and a multiple-response SAT (speed-accuracy tradeoff) experiment (N=16) on distinct participant samples using an antonym paradigm (The opposite of black is white/nice/yellow with acceptability judgment). We hypothesized that SAT profiles incorporate processes of task-related decision-making (P300) and stimulus-related expectation violation (N400). We replicated previous ERP results (Roehm et al. 2007): in the correct condition (white), the expected target elicits a P300, while both expectation violations engender an N400 (reduced for related (yellow) vs. unrelated targets (nice)). Using multivariate Bayesian mixed-effects models, we modelled the P300 and N400 responses simultaneously and found that correlation between residuals and subject-level random effects of each response window was minimal, suggesting that the components are largely independent. For the SAT data, we found that antonyms and unrelated targets had a similar slope (rate of increase in accuracy over time) and an asymptote at ceiling, while related targets showed both a lower slope and a lower asymptote, reaching only approximately 80% accuracy. Using a GLMM-based approach (Davidson and Martin, 2013), we modelled these dynamics using response time and condition as predictors. Replacing the predictor for condition with the averaged P300 and N400 amplitudes from the ERP experiment, we achieved identical model performance. We then examined the piecewise contribution of the P300 and N400 amplitudes with partial effects (see Hohenstein & Kliegl 2015). Unsurprisingly, the P300 amplitude was the strongest contributor to the SAT-curve in the antonym condition and the N400 was the strongest contributor in the unrelated condition. In brief, this is the first demonstration of how overlapping ERP responses in one sample of participants predict behavioral SAT profiles of another sample. The P300 and N400 reflect two independent but interacting processes and the competition between these processes is reflected differently in behavioral parameters of speed and accuracy.

Keywords: EEG & ERP, speed accuracy trade off, N400, P300, task effect, sentence processing, Mixed effect models

Received: 28 Feb 2019; Accepted: 05 Aug 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Alday and Kretzschmar. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Phillip M. Alday, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, Netherlands,