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Using electroencephalography to characterise shallow processing in language comprehension

  • Start date: 01 January 2009
  • End date: 30 April 2010

Language is often processed only to a shallow extent, a fact for which there is growing evidence, and that will influence the way theories of comprehension develop.  Shallow processing is clearly revealed by the fact that people often miss anomalous words, like "survivors", in the sentence "After an aircrash, where should the survivors be buried?" -"Survivors" is anomalous, because to be a survivor, an individual would have to be alive.

In order to investigate the brain mechanisms underlying such failures to be conscious of anomalies,  EEG (Electroencephalogram) measurement techniques will be used.  This will enable the investigators to determine whether there is unconscious detection of anomalies in cases where there is a failure to be aware of them.  The technique will also enable  the establishment of  factors influencing the likelihood of anomaly detection, and how this is reflected in brain electrical activity.  By these means, it will be possible to link shallow processing to existing ideas about semantic processing.  At the same time, the investigations will add to knowledge of how different EEG patterns are related to the processing of meaning and syntax.