There is an ongoing controversy over whether readers can access the meaning of multiple words, simultaneously. To date, different experimental methods have generated seemingly contradictory evidence in support of serial or parallel processing accounts. For example, dual-task studies suggest that readers can process a maximum of one word at a time (White, Palmer & Boynton, 2018), while ERP studies have demonstrated neural priming effects that are more consistent with parallel activation (Wen, Snell & Grainger, 2019). To help reconcile these views, I measured neural responses and behavioral accuracy in a dual-task sentence comprehension paradigm. Participants saw masked sentences and two-word phrases and had to judge whether or not they were grammatical. Grammatically correct sentences (This girl is neat) produced smaller N400 responses compared to scrambled sentences (Those girl is fled): an N400 sentence superiority effect. Critically, participants' grammaticality judgements on the same trials showed striking capacity limitations, with dual-task deficits closely matching the predictions of a serial, all-or-none processing account. Together, these findings suggest that the N400 sentence superiority effect is fully compatible with serial word recognition, and that readers are unable to process multiple sentence positions simultaneously.
In people with schizophrenia and related disorders, impairments in communication and social functioning can negatively impact social interactions and quality of life. In the present study, we investigated the cognitive basis of a specific aspect of linguistic communication—lexical alignment— in people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. We probed lexical alignment as participants played a collaborative picture-naming game with the experimenter, in which the two players alternated between naming a dual-name picture (e.g., rabbit/bunny) and listening to their partner name a picture. We found evidence of lexical alignment in all three groups, with no differences between the patient groups and the controls. We argue that these typical patterns of lexical alignment in patients were supported by preserved—and in some cases increased—bottom-up mechanisms, which balanced out impairments in top-down perspective-taking.