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

Mante S Nieuwland, Stephen Politzer-Ahles, Evelien Heyselaar, Katrien Segaert, Emily Darley, Nina Kazanina, Sarah Von Grebmer Zu Wolfsthurn, Federica Bartolozzi, Vita Kogan, Aine Ito, Diane Mézière, Dale J Barr, Guillaume A Rousselet, Heather J Ferguson, Simon Busch-Moreno, Xiao Fu, Jyrki Tuomainen, Eugenia Kulakova, E Matthew Husband, David I DonaldsonZdenko Kohút, Shirley-Ann Rueschemeyer, Falk Huettig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

68 Citations (Scopus)
329 Downloads (Pure)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere33468
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2018

Structured keywords

  • Language
  • Cognitive Science
  • Brain and Behaviour
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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