Comparing arithmetic and semantic fact retrieval: Effects of problem size and sentence constraint on event-related brain potentials

Authors


  • This research was supported by Grant Ro 529/10 from the German Research Foundation (DFG) assigned to Frank Rösler. We thank Patrick Khader for valuable suggestions and helpful discussions.

Address reprint requests to: Kerstin Jost, Fachbereich Psychologie, Philipps Universität Marburg, Gutenbergstraße 18, D-35032 Marburg, Germany; E-mail: jost@staff.uni-marburg.de; or Frank Rösler, Fachbereich Psychologie, Philipps Universität Marburg, Gutenbergstraße 18, D-35032 Marburg, Germany; E-mail: roesler@staff.uni-marburg.de

Abstract

Event-related potentials were recorded with 61 electrodes from 16 students who verified either the correctness of single-digit multiplication problems or the semantic congruency of sentences. Multiplication problems varied in size and sentence fragments in constraint. Both semantic and arithmetic incongruencies evoked a typical N400 with a clear parieto-central maximum. In addition, numerically larger problems (8×7), in comparison to smaller problems (3×2), evoked a negativity starting at about 360 ms whose maximum was located over the right temporal-parietal scalp. These results indicate that the arithmetic incongruency and the problem-size effect are functionally distinct. It is suggested that the arithmetic and the semantic incongruency effects are both functionally related to a context-dependent spread of activation in specialized associative networks, whereas the arithmetic problem-size effect is due to rechecking routines that go beyond basic fact retrieval.

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