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This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
It has been suggested that the variability among studies in the onset of lexical effects may be due to a series of methodological differences. In this study we investigated the role of orthographic familiarity, phonological legality and number of orthographic neighbours of words in determining the onset of word/non-word discriminative responses.
ERPs were recorded from 128 sites in 16 Italian University students engaged in a lexical decision task. Stimuli were 100 words, 100 quasi-words (obtained by the replacement of a single letter), 100 pseudo-words (non-derived) and 100 illegal letter strings. All stimuli were balanced for length; words and quasi-words were also balanced for frequency of use, domain of semantic category and imageability. SwLORETA source reconstruction was performed on ERP difference waves of interest.
Overall, the data provided evidence that the latency of lexical effects (word/non-word discrimination) varied as a function of the number of a word's orthographic neighbours, being shorter to non-derived than to derived pseudo-words. This suggests some caveats about the use in lexical decision paradigms of quasi-words obtained by transposing or replacing only 1 or 2 letters. Our findings also showed that the left-occipito/temporal area, reflecting the activity of the left fusiform gyrus (BA37) of the temporal lobe, was affected by the visual familiarity of words, thus explaining its lexical sensitivity (word vs. non-word discrimination). The temporo-parietal area was markedly sensitive to phonological legality exhibiting a clear-cut discriminative response between illegal and legal strings as early as 250 ms of latency.
The onset of lexical effects in a lexical decision paradigm depends on a series of factors, including orthographic familiarity, degree of global lexical activity, and phonologic legality of non-words.