Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2019

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Albert Kim

Second Advisor

Tim Curran

Third Advisor

Eliana Colunga

Abstract

Context plays a fundamental role in language comprehension; however, much of what we know about the effects of context come from isolated sentences, and the role of context during free-reading of naturalistic stories is less well understood. It is plausible that experimentally manipulated, isolated sentences provide fewer predictive affordances than stories, where the topic of a story may provide top-down contextual information in addition to the linguistic constraints on sentences. These sources of contextual information have been shown to affect language comprehension, as measured by eye movements and electroencephalographic (EEG) scalp potentials. We examined the effects of context on the neural oscillatory activity at multiple frequency-bands during free-reading of naturalistic stories using time-frequency representations (TFRs), derived from coregistration of the EEG signal and eye movements. We compared words with low vs. high contextual fit, derived from the relationship between fixated words and the words preceding them (local contextual fit), and to the topic of the story (topic contextual fit). We found TFR effects of contextual fit, suggesting that similar neurocognitive mechanisms are engaged for language comprehension during free-reading of naturalistic stories as compared to reading of words in isolated sentences. However, the TFR effects were present only for local contextual fit, not topic contextual fit. Given the naturalistic and exploratory nature of the present study, we provide a speculative account of these results.

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