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Keywords:

  • Aging;
  • Language;
  • Semantic ambiguity;
  • Cerebral hemispheres;
  • Event-related potentials;
  • N400;
  • LPC

Abstract

ERPs were recorded as older adults decided if a target word was related to a lateralized ambiguous or unambiguous prime; prime-target pairs were preceded by a related or unrelated context word. In an unrelated context, N400 facilitation effects differed from those seen in young adults, with older adults showing priming for the dominant meaning (e.g., BOOM-BANK-DEPOSIT) on right visual field/left hemisphere (RVF/LH) trials and priming for the subordinate meaning (e.g., BOOM-BANK-RIVER) on LVF/RH trials. Higher-functioning older adults, especially those with better inhibition, were more likely to show bilateral activation of the dominant meaning and unilateral activation of the subordinate meaning, suggesting a retention of young-like activation. In a biasing context (e.g., RIVER-BANK-DEPOSIT), older adults selected the contextually-consistent meaning, but were less likely than young adults to revise their selection.