Poster B59, Sunday, March 26, 8:00 – 10:00 am, Pacific Concourse
Attentional Control during Language Comprehension: Connecting Brain to Behavior
Megan Boudewyn1, Cameron Carter1; 1University of California, Davis
Attention is critical to the construction of mental representations of language context during comprehension. In this study, we investigated the consequences of momentary lapses in attention during listening comprehension on neural activity and behavior, measured using electrophysiology (EEG) and comprehension questions, respectively. Participants (N=22) listened to two full-length stories while EEG was recorded, and completed multiple choice questions about the stories afterwards. Listening was periodically interrupted by attention probes, in which participants were asked whether their attention immediately preceding the probe’s appearance was focused on the story. Results suggested that participants spent a substantial amount of listening time off-task, endorsing attention lapses on over 20% of probes. EEG activity in the alpha band (9-12 Hz) was significantly increased just prior to the endorsement of an attention lapse compared to the endorsement of on-task listening (p<0.05). This is consistent with our previous work that has linked relative increases in alpha activity during comprehension to momentary lapses in attentional engagement to language stimuli. Importantly, in the current study, comprehension accuracy for content presented just prior to the attention probes was significantly decreased for probes on which an attention lapses was endorsed compared to probes on which on-task listening was endorsed (p<0.05). Thus, our results connect changes in neural activity in the alpha band to episodes of mind-wandering during listening comprehension, and in turn to decreased comprehension accuracy. These results demonstrate how alpha can be used to track attentional engagement during language comprehension, and illustrate the dependence of successful language comprehension on attention.
Topic Area: LANGUAGE: Other