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Half-listening or zoned out? It’s about the same: the impact of attentional state on word processing in context

ABSTRACT Language comprehension must require some degree of attentional focus, but how do periods of inattention and/or split attention impact how language is processed? Here EEG was recorded while participants listened to full-length stories, and were periodically asked about whether they were fully attentive, were completely inattentive, or felt that they were in a split attention state. The ERP response to the words immediately preceding these attention questions was examined as a function of participant response, which allowed for the comparison of word processing in each of these attentional states. When participants were on-task, typical N400 effects of lexical frequency (smaller N400 for common compared to less common words), word position (smaller N400 for words appearing late in a sentence compared to words appearing with less preceding context), and surprisal (smaller N400 for relatively expected words compared to relatively unexpected words) were observed. When participants were in a fully inattentive state, the word-level effect of frequency was intact, but the context-dependent effects of word position and surprisal were significantly reduced. Interestingly, the pattern of results when participants were in a split attention state closely matched that of the fully inattentive state. Overall, the results demonstrate how attentional state influences sensitivity to language context during comprehension, and show that the consequences of inattention and split attention on word processing in context are quite similar, at least on the indices measured here.

Open Access
No convincing evidence the hippocampus is associated with working memory

ABSTRACT In a previous discussion paper , twenty-six working memory fMRI studies that reported activity in the hippocampus were systematically analyzed. None of these studies provided convincing evidence that the hippocampus was active during the late delay phase, the only period in which working memory can be isolated from long-term memory processes. Based on these results, it was concluded that working memory does not activate the hippocampus. Six commentaries on the discussion paper were received from Courtney (2022), Kessels and Bergmann (2022), Peters and Reithler (2022), Rose and Chao (2022), Stern and Hasselmo (2022), and Wood et al. (2022). Based on these commentaries, the present response paper considered whether there is evidence of sustained hippocampal activity during the working memory delay period based on depth-electrode recording, whether there are activity-silent working memory mechanisms in the hippocampus, and whether there is hippocampal lesion evidence indicating this region is important for working memory. There was no convincing electrophysiological or neuropsychological evidence that the hippocampus is associated with working memory maintenance, and activity-silent mechanisms were arguably speculative. Given that only a small fraction (approximately 5%) of working memory fMRI studies have reported hippocampal activity and lesion evidence indicates the hippocampus is not necessary for working memory, the burden of proof is on proponents of the view that the hippocampus is important for working memory to provide compelling evidence to support their position. To date, from my perspective, there is no convincing evidence that the hippocampus is associated with working memory.

Role of the prefrontal cortex and executive functions in basic emotions recognition: evidence from patients with focal damage to the prefrontal cortex

ABSTRACT Few studies have examined the specific contribution of focal damage of the prefrontal cortex and executive dysfunction to emotion recognition deficits, with results reporting controversial findings. This study investigated the performance of 30 patients with prefrontal cortex damage and 30 matched controls on a battery of executive measures assessing processes of inhibition, flexibility, and planning and a task of emotion recognition with also a particular attention to the examination of the association between these domains. The results showed that compared with control participants, patients with prefrontal cortex damage were impaired in recognizing the three negative emotions of fear, sadness, and anger and were also impaired on all executive measures. Moreover, by examining the association between both these domains, using correlation and regression analyses, we noted that impaired performance in recognizing emotions of fear, sadness, and anger was predicted by impaired performances on the measures of inhibition and flexibility or “set-shifting” suggesting that the ability to recognize emotions could be at least to some extent cognitively mediated. Finally, using a voxel-based lesion technique, we identified a partially common prefrontal network underlying deficits on executive functions and emotions recognition centered on the ventral and medial parts of the prefrontal cortex, reflecting beyond the neural network involved in recognizing negative emotions per se that of the cognitive processes elicited by this emotion task.