Syntactic processing modulates the theta rhythm of the human EEG

MCM Bastiaansen, J van Berkum, P. Hagoort

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Changes in oscillatory brain dynamics can be studied by means of induced band power (IBP) analyses, which quantify event-related changes in amplitude of frequency-specific EEG rhythms. Such analyses capture EEG phenomena that are not part of traditional event-related potential measures. The present study investigated whether IBP changes in the δ, θ, and α frequency ranges are sensitive to syntactic violations in sentences. Subjects read sentences that either were correct or contained a syntactic violation. The violations were either grammatical gender agreement violations, where a prenominal adjective was not appropriately inflected for the head noun's gender, or number agreement violations, in which a plural quantifier was combined with a singular head noun. IBP changes of the concurrently measured EEG were computed in five frequency bands of 2-Hz width, individually adjusted on the basis of subjects' α peak, ranging approximately from 2 to 12 Hz. Words constituting a syntactic violation elicited larger increases in θ power than the same words in a correct sentence context, in an interval of 300–500 ms after word onset. Of all the frequency bands studied, this was true for the θ frequency band only. The scalp topography of this effect was different for different violations: following number violations a left-hemispheric dominance was found, whereas gender violations elicited a right-hemisphere dominance of the θ power increase. Possible interpretations of this effect are considered in closing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1479-1492
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


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