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Keywords:

  • Cognition;
  • Language/speech;
  • Normal volunteers;
  • EEG/ERP

Abstract

The cognitive system is able to reconfigure mental resources flexibly to adapt to new a task. While task-set switching is known to be detrimental to behavioral performance, less is known about the precise loci of these effects on stimulus processing. We measured event-related potentials to explore the neural consequences of task-set switching on semantic processing. We examined the context-sensitive N400 component evoked by the second of two target words embedded in a rapid serial visual presentation under conditions that involved either a task-set switch or no switching. Whereas the N400 was unaffected by the lag separating the targets in the absence of switching, it was delayed and attenuated in the switch condition when the targets were adjacent in the sequence. These findings indicate that task-set reconfiguration temporarily prevents semantic activation and provide evidence for the nonautomaticity of semantic processing of words.