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On the incrementality of pragmatic processing: An ERP investigation of informativeness and pragmatic abilities

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Citation

Nieuwland, M. S., Ditman, T., & Kuperberg, G. R. (2010). On the incrementality of pragmatic processing: An ERP investigation of informativeness and pragmatic abilities. Journal of Memory and Language, 63(3), 324-346. doi:10.1016/j.jml.2010.06.005.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002B-7B8A-6
Abstract
In two event-related potential (ERP) experiments, we determined to what extent Grice’s maxim of informativeness as well as pragmatic ability contributes to the incremental build-up of sentence meaning, by examining the impact of underinformative versus informative scalar statements (e.g. “Some people have lungs/pets, and…”) on the N400 event-related potential (ERP), an electrophysiological index of semantic processing. In Experiment 1, only pragmatically skilled participants (as indexed by the Autism Quotient Communication subscale) showed a larger N400 to underinformative statements. In Experiment 2, this effect disappeared when the critical words were unfocused so that the local underinformativeness went unnoticed (e.g., “Some people have lungs that…”). Our results suggest that, while pragmatic scalar meaning can incrementally contribute to sentence comprehension, this contribution is dependent on contextual factors, whether these are derived from individual pragmatic abilities or the overall experimental context.