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Journal Article

Attention for speaking: Prestimulus motor-cortical alpha power predicts picture naming latencies


Jongman,  Suzanne R.
Psychology of Language Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;


Roelofs,  Ardi
Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, External Organizations;
Research Associates, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Jongman, S. R., Roelofs, A., & Lewis, A. G. (2020). Attention for speaking: Prestimulus motor-cortical alpha power predicts picture naming latencies. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 32(5), 747-761. doi:10.1162/jocn_a_01513.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0005-FFF7-6
There is a range of variability in the speed with which a single speaker will produce the same word from one instance to another. Individual differences studies have shown that the speed of production and the ability to maintain attention are related. This study investigated whether fluctuations in production latencies can be explained by spontaneous fluctuations in speakers' attention just prior to initiating speech planning. A relationship between individuals' incidental attentional state and response performance is well attested in visual perception, with lower prestimulus alpha power associated with faster manual responses. Alpha is thought to have an inhibitory function: Low alpha power suggests less inhibition of a specific brain region, whereas high alpha power suggests more inhibition. Does the same relationship hold for cognitively demanding tasks such as word production? In this study, participants named pictures while EEG was recorded, with alpha power taken to index an individual's momentary attentional state. Participants' level of alpha power just prior to picture presentation and just prior to speech onset predicted subsequent naming latencies. Specifically, higher alpha power in the motor system resulted in faster speech initiation. Our results suggest that one index of a lapse of attention during speaking is reduced inhibition of motor-cortical regions: Decreased motor-cortical alpha power indicates reduced inhibition of this area while early stages of production planning unfold, which leads to increased interference from motor-cortical signals and longer naming latencies. This study shows that the language production system is not impermeable to the influence of attention.