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Yes, you can? A speaker’s potency to act upon his words orchestrates early neural responses to message-level meaning

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Bornkessel-Schlesewsky,  Ina
Department of Germanic Linguistics, Philipps University Marburg, Germany;
Max Planck Research Group Neurotypology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

Krauspenhaar,  Sylvia
Max Planck Research Group Neurotypology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Bornkessel-Schlesewsky, I., Krauspenhaar, S., & Schlesewsky, M. (2013). Yes, you can? A speaker’s potency to act upon his words orchestrates early neural responses to message-level meaning. PLoS One, 8(7): e69173. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069173.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0015-844B-1
Abstract
Evidence is accruing that, in comprehending language, the human brain rapidly integrates a wealth of information sources–including the reader or hearer’s knowledge about the world and even his/her current mood. However, little is known to date about how language processing in the brain is affected by the hearer’s knowledge about the speaker. Here, we investigated the impact of social attributions to the speaker by measuring event-related brain potentials while participants watched videos of three speakers uttering true or false statements pertaining to politics or general knowledge: a top political decision maker (the German Federal Minister of Finance at the time of the experiment), a well-known media personality and an unidentifiable control speaker. False versus true statements engendered an N400 - late positivity response, with the N400 (150–450 ms) constituting the earliest observable response to message-level meaning. Crucially, however, the N400 was modulated by the combination of speaker and message: for false versus true political statements, an N400 effect was only observable for the politician, but not for either of the other two speakers; for false versus true general knowledge statements, an N400 was engendered by all three speakers. We interpret this result as demonstrating that the neurophysiological response to message-level meaning is immediately influenced by the social status of the speaker and whether he/she has the power to bring about the state of affairs described.