To Catch a Snitch: Brain potentials reveal knowledge-based variability in the functional organization of (fictional) world knowledge during reading

AbstractPeople vary in what they know, yet models of language processing do not take this variability into account. We harnessed the temporal sensitivity of event-related brain potentials alongside individual differences in Harry Potter (HP) knowledge to investigate the extent to which the availability and timing of information relevant for real-time word comprehension are influenced by variation in degree of domain knowledge. We manipulated meaningful (category, event) relationships between sentence contexts about HP stories and critical words (endings), assessed via behavioral ratings and by measuring similarity of word embeddings derived from a high- dimensional semantic model trained on HP texts. Individuals’ ratings were sensitive to these relationships according to the degree of their domain knowledge. During reading, N400 amplitudes (neural measures of semantic retrieval) also reflected this variability, suggesting the degree to which information relevant for word understanding is available during real-time sentence processing varies as a function of individuals’ domain knowledge.


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