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Keywords:

  • Event-related potentials;
  • N400;
  • Language;
  • Sentence processing;
  • Aging;
  • Hemispheric differences

Abstract

Reviewed are studies using event-related potentials to examine when and how sentence context information is used during language comprehension. Results suggest that, when it can, the brain uses context to predict features of likely upcoming items. However, although prediction seems important for comprehension, it also appears susceptible to age-related deterioration and can be associated with processing costs. The brain may address this trade-off by employing multiple processing strategies, distributed across the two cerebral hemispheres. In particular, left hemisphere language processing seems to be oriented toward prediction and the use of top-down cues, whereas right hemisphere comprehension is more bottom-up, biased toward the veridical maintenance of information. Such asymmetries may arise, in turn, because language comprehension mechanisms are integrated with language production mechanisms only in the left hemisphere (the PARLO framework).