The N400 ERP: Semantic vs. evaluative incongruities

Jennifer Hilda Taylor, University of Texas at El Paso


The objective of this research was to utilize both behavioral (response times) and psychophysiological measures (ERPs–N400 & Pre-response Positivity) to uncover the cognitive mechanism responsible for the evaluative priming effect (spreading activation vs. response competition) by controlling for semantic influences. This research project examined the evaluative incongruity effect by controlling for semantic influences in two separate studies. The first study kept semantic associations among word pairs completely random, while the second study controlled for semantic associations by either pairing words from the same semantic category (e.g., animal-animal) or from different semantic categories (e.g., animal-person). Participants completed an evaluative task by indicating if the second word in the word pair was good or bad. Although the results from study 1 did not show a significant behavioral evaluative effect, the response competition mechanism was supported by findings that showed a marginally significant response-monitoring ERP component (PRP). Response competition was further supported with both behavioral and psychophysiological findings in study 2. The results showed a behavioral evaluative effect, where participants responded faster to evaluatively congruent word pairs than to incongruent word pairs and also found a significant PRP. The N400 was not found in either of the two studies and therefore did not lend support for spreading activation. The findings from both of these studies support response competition as the mechanism underlying the evaluative priming effect and question the possible role of spreading activation. Future studies should further explore the comparative approach by varying word pairs on both a semantic and evaluative dimension.

Subject Area

Experimental psychology|Cognitive psychology

Recommended Citation

Taylor, Jennifer Hilda, "The N400 ERP: Semantic vs. evaluative incongruities" (2008). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI1461168.