Predictability's aftermath: Downstream consequences of word predictability as revealed by repetition effects

Joost Rommers* (Corresponding Author), Kara D. Federmeier

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)
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Stimulus processing in language and beyond is shaped by context, with predictability having a particularly well-attested influence on the rapid processes that unfold during the presentation of a word. But does predictability also have downstream consequences for the quality of the constructed representations? On the one hand, the ease of processing predictable words might free up time or cognitive resources, allowing for relatively thorough processing of the input. On the other hand, predictability might allow the system to run in a top-down “verification mode”, at the expense of thorough stimulus processing. This electroencephalogram (EEG) study manipulated word predictability, which reduced N400 amplitude and inter-trial phase clustering (ITPC), and then probed the fate of the (un)predictable words in memory by presenting them again. More thorough processing of predictable words should increase repetition effects, whereas less thorough processing should decrease them. Repetition was reflected in N400 decreases, late positive complex (LPC) enhancements, and late alpha/beta band power decreases. Critically, prior predictability tended to reduce the repetition effect on the N400, suggesting less priming, and eliminated the repetition effect on the LPC, suggesting a lack of episodic recollection. These findings converge on a top-down verification account, on which the brain processes more predictable input less thoroughly. More generally, the results demonstrate that predictability has multifaceted downstream consequences beyond processing in the moment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-30
Number of pages15
Early online date2 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018

Bibliographical note

A James S. McDonnell Foundation Scholar Award and NIH grant AG026308 to K.D.F supported this work. J.R. is supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) grant 275-89-032. We thank Rami Alsaqri, Vivek Dave and Neha Vagadia for assistance with stimulus development and/or data collection, and Ryan J. Hubbard for sharing independent component analysis scripts.


  • Word predictability
  • Repetition
  • Alpha power
  • Sentence comprehension


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