The neurocognition of linguistic conflict resolution: evidence from brain oscillations, ERPs, and source modelling

Mohr, Sibylle (2012) The neurocognition of linguistic conflict resolution: evidence from brain oscillations, ERPs, and source modelling. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The ability to express thought in language, to communicate, and to rapidly
understand who did what to whom is a highly complex cognitive skill and ultimately the cognitive trait that defines us as being human. For the most part, language comprehension runs very smoothly and people perform it extremely quickly and efficiently. One might think this is nothing exceptional, were it not for the fact that everyday speech contains plenty of ambiguities, speech errors, and otherwise conflicting or interfering information. Similar to any other cognitive system, the language system is fitted out with mechanisms that detect conflicts and trigger compensating adjustments
‘on-the-fly’ in order to make sense of what has been said. Inevitably, language comprehension requires a combination of automatic and controlled processes and, depending on the context, we engage in both to varying degrees. Historically, linguistic conflict resolution has been investigated regarding to what extent linguistic modules such as ‘syntax’ and ‘semantics’ contribute to the process. In this thesis I take a step away from the traditional approach towards the question how the mechanisms underlying linguistic conflict resolution fit into domain-general cognition. It has been shown that
controlled processing reliably results in activation of large-scale networks throughout the cortex. Importantly, neuroimaging studies have shown that the crucial brain region that enables us to flexibly make adjustments is the prefrontal cortex (PFC). In this thesis I present four case studies that investigated brain oscillations (as recorded in the EEG and MEG signal) in the time-frequency- (TFR), amplitude-time- (ERP), and source domain to determine how the language system relates to general executive functions. The materials employed structures that are amongst the most well-studied in psycholinguistic research: locally ambiguous garden-path sentences (e.g. “The nurse examined by the doctor was not on duty”), gender-agreement mismatches in anaphora and cataphora (e.g.“The king left London after reminding himself/herself about the letter”/ “After reminding himself/herself about the letter, the king left London.”), and syntactically complex garden-path sentences (“The receptionist realized that the nurse examined by the doctor was not on duty.”).The results in this thesis support the notion that there is indeed a connection between the language system and general executive functions during linguistic conflict resolution. Still, there are also situations where specialized ‘modules’ perform conflict resolution in a highly automatised fashion, particularly when contextual information sufficiently cues future input. However, as soon as increased uncertainty comes into play
or capacity limits are reached, the brain appears to rely on extremely flexible mechanisms in prefrontal cortex regions.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Linguistic conflict resolution, syntactic garden-path sentences, anaphora, cataphora, Prefrontal Cortex, large-scale networks, oscillations, automatic processing, controlled processing, EEG, MEG
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Colleges/Schools: College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology
Supervisor's Name: Garrod, Prof. Simon C. and Kessler, Dr. Klaus
Date of Award: 2012
Depositing User: Ms Sibylle Mohr
Unique ID: glathesis:2012-4084
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 11 Mar 2013 13:30
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2013 13:53

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