An electrophysiological study of the effects of orthographic neighborhood size on printed word perception


  • Holcomb Pj
  • Grainger J
  • O'Rourke T

document type



In two experiments participants read words and pseudowords that belonged to either large or small lexical neighborhoods while event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were recorded from their scalps. In Experiment 1, participants made speeded lexical decisions to all items, while in Experiment 2 they engaged in a go/no-go semantic categorization task in which the critical items did not require an overt behavioral response. In both experiments, words and pseudowords produced a consistent pattern of ERP effects: items with many lexical neighbors (large neighborhoods) generated larger N400s than similar items with relatively fewer lexical neighbors (small neighborhoods). Reaction time (RT, Experiment 1), on the other hand, showed a different pattern consistent with previous behavioral studies. While words tended to produce a facilitation in RT for larger neighborhoods, pseudowords produced an inhibition effect. The findings are discussed in terms of recent theories of word recognition and the functional significance of the N400.

more information