Sentence superiority in the reading brain


  • Dufau Stéphane
  • Yeaton Jeremy
  • Badier Jean-Michel
  • Chen Sophie
  • Holcomb Phillip J
  • Grainger Jonathan


  • Sentence superiority effect
  • Reading
  • Interactive-Activation
  • MEG

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When a sequence of written words is briefly presented and participants are asked to identify just one word at a post-cued location, then word identification accuracy is higher when the word is presented in a grammatically correct sequence compared with an ungrammatical sequence. This sentence superiority effect has been reported in several behavioral studies and two EEG investigations. Taken together, the results of these studies support the hypothesis that the sentence superiority effect is primarily driven by rapid access to a sentence-level representation via partial word identification processes that operate in parallel over several words. Here we used MEG to examine the neural structures involved in this early stage of written sentence processing, and to further specify the timing of the different processes involved. Source activities over time showed grammatical vs. ungrammatical differences first in the left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG: 325-400 ms), then the left anterior temporal lobe (ATL: 475-525 ms), and finally in both left IFG and left posterior superior temporal gyrus (pSTG: 550-600 ms). We interpret the early IFG activity as reflecting the rapid bottom-up activation of sentence-level representations, including syntax, enabled by partly parallel word processing. Subsequent activity in ATL and pSTG is thought to reflect the constraints imposed by such sentence-level representations on on-going word-based semantic activation (ATL), and the subsequent development of a more detailed sentence-level representation (pSTG). These results provide further support for a cascaded interactive-activation account of sentence reading.

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