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Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.615538

Neurobehavioral Correlates of Surprisal in Language Comprehension: A Neurocomputational Model Provisionally accepted The final, formatted version of the article will be published soon. Notify me

  • 1Department of Language Science and Technology, Saarland University, Germany

Expectation-based theories of language comprehension, in particular Surprisal Theory, go a long way in accounting for the behavioral correlates of word-by-word processing difficulty, such as reading times. An open question, however, is in which component(s) of the Event-Related brain Potential (ERP) signal Surprisal is reflected, and how these electrophysiological correlates relate to behavioral processing indices. Here, we address this question by instantiating an explicit neurocomputational model of incremental, word-by-word language comprehension that produces estimates of the N400 and the P600 - the two most salient ERP components for language processing - as well as estimates of `comprehension-centric' Surprisal for each word in a sentence. We derive model predictions for a recent experimental design that directly investigates `world-knowledge'-induced Surprisal. By relating these predictions to both empirical electrophysiological and behavioral results, we establish a close link between Surprisal, as indexed by reading times, and the P600 component of the ERP signal. The resultant model thus offers an integrated neurobehavioral account of processing difficulty in language comprehension.

Keywords: event-related potentials (ERPs), N400, P600, Language comprehension, Surprisal theory

Received: 09 Oct 2020; Accepted: 11 Jan 2021.

Copyright: © 2021 Brouwer, Delogu, Venhuizen and Crocker. 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. Harm Brouwer, Saarland University, Department of Language Science and Technology, Saarbrücken, Germany, me@hbrouwer.eu
Dr. Francesca Delogu, Saarland University, Department of Language Science and Technology, Saarbrücken, Germany, delogu@coli.uni-saarland.de
Dr. Noortje J. Venhuizen, Saarland University, Department of Language Science and Technology, Saarbrücken, Germany, noortjev@coli.uni-saarland.de
Prof. Matthew W. Crocker, Saarland University, Department of Language Science and Technology, Saarbrücken, Germany, crocker@coli.uni-saarland.de