- Gesture facilitates the syntactic analysis of speech (2012)
- Recent research suggests that the brain routinely binds together information from gesture and speech. However, most of this research focused on the integration of representational gestures with the semantic content of speech. Much less is known about how other aspects of gesture, such as emphasis, influence the interpretation of the syntactic relations in a spoken message. Here, we investigated whether beat gestures alter which syntactic structure is assigned to ambiguous spoken German sentences. The P600 component of the Event Related Brain Potential indicated that the more complex syntactic structure is easier to process when the speaker emphasizes the subject of a sentence with a beat. Thus, a simple flick of the hand can change our interpretation of who has been doing what to whom in a spoken sentence. We conclude that gestures and speech are integrated systems. Unlike previous studies, which have shown that the brain effortlessly integrates semantic information from gesture and speech, our study is the first to demonstrate that this integration also occurs for syntactic information. Moreover, the effect appears to be gesture-specific and was not found for other stimuli that draw attention to certain parts of speech, including prosodic emphasis, or a moving visual stimulus with the same trajectory as the gesture. This suggests that only visual emphasis produced with a communicative intention in mind (that is, beat gestures) influences language comprehension, but not a simple visual movement lacking such an intention.
- P3b reflects periodicity in linguistic sequences (2012)
- Temporal predictability is thought to affect stimulus processing by facilitating the allocation of attentional resources. Recent studies have shown that periodicity of a tonal sequence results in a decreased peak latency and a larger amplitude of the P3b compared with temporally random, i.e., aperiodic sequences. We investigated whether this applies also to sequences of linguistic stimuli (syllables), although speech is usually aperiodic. We compared aperiodic syllable sequences with two temporally regular conditions. In one condition, the interval between syllable onset was fixed, whereas in a second condition the interval between the syllables’ perceptual center (p-center) was kept constant. Event-related potentials were assessed in 30 adults who were instructed to detect irregularities in the stimulus sequences. We found larger P3b amplitudes for both temporally predictable conditions as compared to the aperiodic condition and a shorter P3b latency in the p-center condition than in both other conditions. These findings demonstrate that even in acoustically more complex sequences such as syllable streams, temporal predictability facilitates the processing of deviant stimuli. Furthermore, we provide first electrophysiological evidence for the relevance of the p-center concept in linguistic stimulus processing.
- Speech rhythm facilitates syntactic ambiguity resolution: ERP evidence (2013)
- In the current event-related potential (ERP) study, we investigated how speech rhythm impacts speech segmentation and facilitates the resolution of syntactic ambiguities in auditory sentence processing. Participants listened to syntactically ambiguous German subject- and object-first sentences that were spoken with either regular or irregular speech rhythm. Rhythmicity was established by a constant metric pattern of three unstressed syllables between two stressed ones that created rhythmic groups of constant size. Accuracy rates in a comprehension task revealed that participants understood rhythmically regular sentences better than rhythmically irregular ones. Furthermore, the mean amplitude of the P600 component was reduced in response to object-first sentences only when embedded in rhythmically regular but not rhythmically irregular context. This P600 reduction indicates facilitated processing of sentence structure possibly due to a decrease in processing costs for the less-preferred structure (object-first). Our data suggest an early and continuous use of rhythm by the syntactic parser and support language processing models assuming an interactive and incremental use of linguistic information during language processing.
- Physical exercise during encoding improves vocabulary learning in young female adults (2013)
- Acute physical activity has been repeatedly shown to improve various cognitive functions. However, there have been no investigations comparing the effects of exercise during verbal encoding versus exercise prior to encoding on long-term memory performance. In this current psychoneuroendocrinological study we aim to test whether light to moderate ergometric bicycling during vocabulary encoding enhances subsequent recall compared to encoding during physical rest and encoding after being physically active. Furthermore, we examined the kinetics of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in serum which has been previously shown to correlate with learning performance. We also controlled for the BDNF val66met polymorphism. We found better vocabulary test performance for subjects that were physically active during the encoding phase compared to sedentary subjects. Post-hoc tests revealed that this effect was particularly present in initially low performers. BDNF in serum and BDNF genotype failed to account for the current result. Our data indicates that light to moderate simultaneous physical activity during encoding, but not prior to encoding, is beneficial for subsequent recall of new items.
- Why pitch sensitivity matters: event-related potential evidence of metric and syntactic violation detection among spanish late learners of german (2011)
- Event-related potential (ERP) data in monolingual German speakers have shown that sentential metric expectancy violations elicit a biphasic ERP pattern consisting of an anterior negativity and a posterior positivity (P600). This pattern is comparable to that elicited by syntactic violations. However, proficient French late learners of German do not detect violations of metric expectancy in German. They also show qualitatively and quantitatively different ERP responses to metric and syntactic violations. We followed up the questions whether (1) latter evidence results from a potential pitch cue insensitivity in speech segmentation in French speakers, or (2) if the result is founded in rhythmic language differences. Therefore, we tested Spanish late learners of German, as Spanish, contrary to French, uses pitch as a segmentation cue even though the basic segmentation unit is the same in French and Spanish (i.e., the syllable). We report ERP responses showing that Spanish L2 learners are sensitive to syntactic as well as metric violations in German sentences independent of attention to task in a P600 response. Overall, the behavioral performance resembles that of German native speakers. The current data suggest that Spanish L2 learners are able to extract metric units (trochee) in their L2 (German) even though their basic segmentation unit in Spanish is the syllable. In addition Spanish in contrast to French L2 learners of German are sensitive to syntactic violations indicating a tight link between syntactic and metric competence. This finding emphasizes the relevant role of metric cues not only in L2 prosodic but also in syntactic processing.
- Aesthetic and emotional effects of meter and rhyme in poetry (2013)
- Metrical patterning and rhyme are frequently employed in poetry but also in infant-directed speech, play, rites, and festive events. Drawing on four line-stanzas from nineteenth and twentieth German poetry that feature end rhyme and regular meter, the present study tested the hypothesis that meter and rhyme have an impact on aesthetic liking, emotional involvement, and affective valence attributions. Hypotheses that postulate such effects have been advocated ever since ancient rhetoric and poetics, yet they have barely been empirically tested. More recently, in the field of cognitive poetics, these traditional assumptions have been readopted into a general cognitive framework. In the present experiment, we tested the influence of meter and rhyme as well as their interaction with lexicality in the aesthetic and emotional perception of poetry. Participants listened to stanzas that were systematically modified with regard to meter and rhyme and rated them. Both rhyme and regular meter led to enhanced aesthetic appreciation, higher intensity in processing, and more positively perceived and felt emotions, with the latter finding being mediated by lexicality. Together these findings clearly show that both features significantly contribute to the aesthetic and emotional perception of poetry and thus confirm assumptions about their impact put forward by cognitive poetics. The present results are explained within the theoretical framework of cognitive fluency, which links structural features of poetry with aesthetic and emotional appraisal.
- Enhanced musical rhythmic perception in Turkish early and late learners of German (2013)
- As language rhythm relies partly on general acoustic properties, such as intensity and duration, mastering two languages with distinct rhythmic properties (i.e., stress position) may enhance musical rhythm perception. We investigated whether second language (L2) competence affects musical rhythm aptitude in Turkish early (TELG) and late learners (TLLG) of German in comparison to German monolingual speakers (GMC). To account for inter-individual differences, we measured participants’ short-term and working memory capacity, melodic aptitude, and time they spent listening to music. Both L2 speaker groups perceived rhythmic variations significantly better than monolinguals. No differences were found between early and late learners’ performances. Our findings suggest that mastering two languages with different rhythmic properties enhances musical rhythm perception, providing further evidence of cognitive share between language and music.
- Temporal regularity effects on pre-attentive and attentive processing of deviance (2011)
- Temporal regularity allows predicting the temporal locus of future information thereby potentially facilitating cognitive processing. We applied event-related brain potentials (ERPs) to investigate how temporal regularity impacts pre-attentive and attentive processing of deviance in the auditory modality. Participants listened to sequences of sinusoidal tones differing exclusively in pitch. The inter-stimulus interval (ISI) in these sequences was manipulated to convey either isochronous or random temporal structure. In the pre-attentive session, deviance processing was unaffected by the regularity manipulation as evidenced in three event-related-potentials (ERPs): mismatch negativity (MMN), P3a, and reorienting negativity (RON). In the attentive session, the P3b was smaller for deviant tones embedded in irregular temporal structure, while the N2b component remained unaffected. These findings confirm that temporal regularity can reinforce cognitive mechanisms associated with the attentive processing of deviance. Furthermore, they provide evidence for the dynamic allocation of attention in time and dissociable pre-attentive and attention-dependent temporal processing mechanisms.
- Treadmill walking during vocabulary encoding improves verbal long-term memory (2014)
- Moderate physical activity improves various cognitive functions, particularly when it is applied simultaneously to the cognitive task. In two psychoneuroendocrinological within-subject experiments, we investigated whether very low-intensity motor activity, i.e. walking, during foreign-language vocabulary encoding improves subsequent recall compared to encoding during physical rest. Furthermore, we examined the kinetics of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in serum and salivary cortisol. Previous research has associated both substances with memory performance.In both experiments, subjects performed better when they were motorically active during encoding compared to being sedentary. BDNF in serum was unrelated to memory performance. In contrast we found a positive correlation between salivary cortisol concentration and the number of correctly recalled items. In summary, even very light physical activity during encoding is beneficial for subsequent recall.