Word class and context affect alpha-band oscillatory dynamics in an older population

MS Mellem, MCM Bastiaansen, LK Pilgrim, AV Medvedev, RB Friedman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Differences in the oscillatory EEG dynamics of reading open class (OC) and closed class (CC) words have previously been found (Bastiaansen et al., 2005) and are thought to reflect differences in lexical-semantic content between these word classes. In particular, the theta-band (4–7 Hz) seems to play a prominent role in lexical-semantic retrieval. We tested whether this theta effect is robust in an older population of subjects. Additionally, we examined how the context of a word can modulate the oscillatory dynamics underlying retrieval for the two different classes of words. Older participants (mean age 55) read words presented in either syntactically correct sentences or in a scrambled order (“scrambled sentence”) while their EEG was recorded. We performed time–frequency analysis to examine how power varied based on the context or class of the word. We observed larger power decreases in the alpha (8–12 Hz) band between 200–700 ms for the OC compared to CC words, but this was true only for the scrambled sentence context. We did not observe differences in theta power between these conditions. Context exerted an effect on the alpha and low beta (13–18 Hz) bands between 0 and 700 ms. These results suggest that the previously observed word class effects on theta power changes in a younger participant sample do not seem to be a robust effect in this older population. Though this is an indirect comparison between studies, it may suggest the existence of aging effects on word retrieval dynamics for different populations. Additionally, the interaction between word class and context suggests that word retrieval mechanisms interact with sentence-level comprehension mechanisms in the alpha-band.
Original languageEnglish
Article number97
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


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