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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Mante Nieuwland
  • Stephen Politzer-Ahles
  • Evelien Heyselaar
  • 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. Donaldson
  • Zdenko Kohút
  • Shirley-Ann Rueschemeyer
  • Falk Huettig


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