Large-scale replication study reveals a limit on probabilistic prediction in language comprehension

Nieuwland, Mante and Politzer-Ahles, Stephen and Heyselaar, Evelien and Segaert, Katrien and Von Grebmer Zu Wolfsthurn4, Sarah and Bartolozzi, Federica and Kogan, Vita and Ito, Aine and Meziere, Diane and Barr, Dale and Rousselet, Guillaume and Ferguson, Heather J. and Busch-Moreno, Simon and Fu, Xiao and Tuomainen, Jyrki and Kulakova, Eugenia and Husband, Matthew and Donaldson, David and Kohut, Zdenko and Rueschmeyer, Shirley-Ann and Huettig, Falk (2018) Large-scale replication study reveals a limit on probabilistic prediction in language comprehension. eLife, 7 (e33468). ISSN 2050-084X. (doi: (Full text available)

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Do people routinely pre-activate the meaning and even the phonological form of upcoming words? The most acclaimed evidence for phonological prediction comes from a 2005 Nature Neuroscience publication by DeLong, Urbach and Kutas, who observed a graded modulation of electrical brain potentials (N400) to nouns and preceding articles by the probability that people use a word to continue the sentence fragment (‘cloze’). In our direct replication study spanning 9 laboratories (N=334), pre-registered replication-analyses and exploratory Bayes factor analyses successfully replicated the noun-results but, crucially, not the article-results. Pre-registered single-trial analyses also yielded a statistically significant effect for the nouns but not the articles. Exploratory Bayesian single-trial analyses showed that the article-effect may be non-zero but is likely far smaller than originally reported and too small to observe without very large sample sizes. Our results do not support the view that readers routinely pre-activate the phonological form of predictable words.

Item Type: Article
Projects: [UNSPECIFIED] Tracking the cognitive basis of social communication across the life-span
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions: Faculties > Social Sciences > School of Psychology
Faculties > Social Sciences > School of Psychology > Cognitive Psychology
Depositing User: Heather Ferguson
Date Deposited: 28 May 2018 20:33 UTC
Last Modified: 29 May 2018 14:50 UTC
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