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

Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02718

Linguistic focus promotes the ease of discourse integration processes in reading comprehension: Evidence from event-related potentials

 Chin Lung Yang1*,  Huili Zhang2, Haifeng Duan3 and Haihua Pan1
  • 1Department of Linguistics and Modern Languages, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, China
  • 2Southern Medical University, China
  • 3Minzu University of China, China

Psycholinguistic studies of focus processing have yielded varying results regarding how focus affects language processing. We report the results of an event-related potential experiment that used question-answer pairs in a discourse to manipulate whether a target word was contextually focused, contrastively focused, contextually defocused, or contextually neutral. We found a negative-going waveform that was sustained in the time-course (250-800 ms after the target word onset) with a maximum over frontal-central scalp sites. As the structure of the discourse made the target word more focused, the negative-going deflection was systematically reduced. We also observed a frontal positive-going waveform that was larger for the focus-marked words relative to the neutral target word in an earlier time window (150-250 ms, P200), which may reflect increased attention allocated to the focused items. We propose that the reduced negative ERPs for the focused words reflects facilitation of meaning integration when focus functions to establish reference in the discourse representation. This can be attributed to extra attention paid to the focus-marked items that in turn promotes the prominence of focus-marked referent and prompts the contextual priming mechanism that facilitates the access of propositionally relevant items in text memory during reading.

Keywords: focus processing, information structure, ERPs, P200, contrastive focus, Nref

Received: 17 Apr 2018; Accepted: 18 Dec 2018.

Edited by:

Carlos Acuña-Fariña, University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Reviewed by:

Katharina Spalek, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany
Stacy Birch, The College at Brockport, United States  

Copyright: © 2018 Yang, Zhang, Duan and Pan. 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. Chin Lung Yang, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Department of Linguistics and Modern Languages, Shatin, New Territories, Hong Kong, China,