Large-scale replication study reveals a limit on probabilistic prediction in language comprehension

Mante Nieuwland, Stephen Politzer-Ahles, Evelien Heyselaar, Katrien Segaert, Emily Darley, Nina Kazanina, Sarah Von Grebmer Zu Wolfsthurn, Federica Bartolozzi, Vita Kogan, Aine Ito, Diane Mézière, Dale Barr, Guillaume A. Rousselet, Heather J. Ferguson, Simon Busch-Moreno, Xiao Fu, Jyrki Tuomainen, Eugenia Kulakova, E. Matthew Husband, David I. DonaldsonZdenko Kohút, Shirley-Ann Rueschemeyer, Falk Huettig

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Do people routinely pre-activate the meaning and even the phonological form of upcoming words? The most acclaimed evidence for phonological prediction comes from a 2005 Nature Neuroscience publication by DeLong, Urbach and Kutas, who observed a graded modulation of electrical brain potentials (N400) to nouns and preceding articles by the probability that people use a word to continue the sentence fragment (‘cloze’). In our direct replication study spanning 9 laboratories (N=334), pre-registered replication-analyses and exploratory Bayes factor analyses successfully replicated the noun-results but, crucially, not the article-results. Pre-registered single-trial analyses also yielded a statistically significant effect for the nouns but not the articles. Exploratory Bayesian single-trial analyses showed that the article-effect may be non-zero but is likely far smaller than originally reported and too small to observe without very large sample sizes. Our results do not support the view that readers routinely pre-activate the phonological form of predictable words.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere33468
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2018


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