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


Nieuwland MS, Politzer-Ahles S, Heyselaar E, Segaert K, Darley E, Kazanina N, Wolfsthurn SVGZ, Bartolozzi F, Kogan V, Ito A, Meziere D, Barr DJ, Rousselet GA, Ferguson H & Donaldson D (2018) Large-scale replication study reveals a limit on probabilistic prediction in language comprehension. eLife, 7, Art. No.: e33468.

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.

Additional co-authors: Simon Busch-Moreno, Xiao Fu, Jyrki Tuomainen, Eugenia Kulakova, E Matthew Husband, Zdenko Kohút, Shirley-Ann Rueschemeyer, Falk Huettig

eLife: Volume 7

Publication date03/04/2018
Publication date online03/04/2018
Date accepted by journal19/03/2018
PublishereLife Sciences Publications