We used Magnetoencephalography (MEG) in combination with Representational Similarity Analysis to probe neural activity associated with distinct, item-specific lexico-semantic predictions during language comprehension. MEG activity was measured as participants read highly constraining sentences in which the final words could be predicted. Before the onset of the predicted words, both the spatial and temporal patterns of brain activity were more similar when the same words were predicted than when different words were predicted. The temporal patterns localized to the left inferior and medial temporal lobe. These findings provide evidence that unique spatial and temporal patterns of neural activity are associated with item-specific lexico-semantic predictions. We suggest that the unique spatial patterns reflected the prediction of spatially distributed semantic features associated with the predicted word, and that the left inferior/medial temporal lobe played a role in temporally “binding” these features, giving rise to unique lexico-semantic predictions.
People with schizophrenia process language in unusual ways, but the causes of these abnormalities are unclear. In particular, it has proven difficult to empirically disentangle explanations based on impairments in the top-down processing of higher-level information from those based on the bottom-up processing of lower-level information.
To distinguish these accounts, we used visual world eye-tracking, a paradigm that measures spoken language processing during real-world interactions. Participants listened to and then acted out syntactically ambiguous spoken instructions (e.g., “tickle the frog with the feather”, which could either specify how to tickle a frog, or which frog to tickle). We contrasted how 24 people with schizophrenia and 24 demographically-matched controls used two types of lower-level information (prosody and lexical representations) and two types of higher-level information (pragmatic and discourse-level representations) to resolve the ambiguous meanings of these instructions. Eye-tracking allowed us to assess how participants arrived at their interpretation in real time, while recordings of participants’ actions measured how they ultimately interpreted the instructions.
We found a striking dissociation in participants’ eye movements: the two groups were similarly adept at using lower-level information to immediately constrain their interpretations of the instructions, but only controls showed evidence of fast top-down use of higher-level information. People with schizophrenia, nonetheless, did eventually reach the same interpretations as controls.
These data suggest that language abnormalities in schizophrenia partially result from a failure to use higher-level information in a top-down fashion, to constrain the interpretation of language as it unfolds in real time.
Introduction: Lexico-semantic disturbances are considered central to schizophrenia. Clinically, their clearest manifestation is in language production. However, most studies probing their underlying mechanisms have used comprehension or categorization tasks. Here, we probed automatic semantic activity prior to language production in schizophrenia using event-related potentials (ERPs).
Methods: 19 people with schizophrenia and 16 demographically-matched healthy controls named target pictures that were very quickly preceded by masked prime words. To probe automatic semantic activity prior to production, we measured the N400 ERP component evoked by these targets. To determine the origin of any automatic semantic abnormalities, we manipulated the type of relationship between prime and target such that they overlapped in (a) their semantic features (semantically related, e.g. “cake” preceding a <picture of a pie>, (b) their initial phonemes (phonemically related, e.g. “stomach” preceding a <picture of a starfish>), or (c) both their semantic features and their orthographic/phonological word form (identity related, e.g. “socks” preceding a <picture of socks>). For each of these three types of relationship, the same targets were paired with unrelated prime words (counterbalanced across lists). We contrasted ERPs and naming times to each type of related target with its corresponding unrelated target.
Results: People with schizophrenia showed abnormal N400 modulation prior to naming identity related (versus unrelated) targets: whereas healthy control participants produced a smaller amplitude N400 to identity related than unrelated targets, patients showed the opposite pattern, producing a larger N400 to identity related than unrelated targets. This abnormality was specific to the identity related targets. Just like healthy control participants, people with schizophrenia produced a smaller N400 to semantically related than to unrelated targets, and showed no difference in the N400 evoked by phonemically related and unrelated targets. There were no differences between the two groups in the pattern of naming times across conditions.
Conclusion: People with schizophrenia can show abnormal neural activity associated with automatic semantic processing prior to language production. The specificity of this abnormality to the identity related targets suggests that that, rather than arising from abnormalities of either semantic features or lexical form alone, it may stem from disruptions of mappings (connections) between the meanings of words and their form.
Background: Schizophrenia is characterized by abnormalities in referential communication, which may be linked to more general deficits in proactive cognitive control. We used event-related potentials (ERPs) to probe the timing and nature of the neural mechanisms engaged as people with schizophrenia linked pronouns to their preceding referents during word-by-word sentence comprehension.
Methods: We measured ERPs to pronouns in two-clause sentences from 16 people with schizophrenia and 20 demographically-matched control participants. Our design crossed the number of potential referents (1-referent, 2-referent) with whether the pronoun matched the gender of its preceding referent(s) (matching, mismatching). This gave rise to four conditions: (1) 1-referent matching (“…Edward took courses in accounting but he…”), (2) 2-referent matching (“…Edward and Phillip took courses but he…”), (3) 1-referent mismatching (“…Edward took courses in accounting but she…”), and (4) 2-referent mismatching (“…Edward and Phillip took courses but she…”).
Results: Consistent with previous findings, healthy controls produced a larger left anteriorly-distributed negativity between 400-600ms to 2-referent matching than to 1-referent matching pronouns (the “Nref effect”). In contrast, people with schizophrenia produced a larger centro-posterior positivity effect between 600-800ms. Both patient and control groups produced a larger positivity between 400-800ms to mismatching than to matching pronouns.
Conclusions: These findings suggest that proactive mechanisms of referential processing, reflected by the Nref effect, are impaired in schizophrenia, while reactive mechanisms, reflected by the positivity effects, are relatively spared. Indeed, patients may compensate for proactive deficits by retro-actively engaging with context to influence the processing of inputs at a later stage of analysis.