DOI: 10.1111/psyp.14565 ISSN: 0048-5772

Are the P600 and P3 ERP components linked to the task‐evoked pupillary response as a correlate of norepinephrine activity?

Friederike Contier, Isabell Wartenburger, Mathias Weymar, Milena Rabovsky
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Neurology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • General Neuroscience


During language comprehension, anomalies and ambiguities in the input typically elicit the P600 event‐related potential component. Although traditionally interpreted as a specific signal of combinatorial operations in sentence processing, the component has alternatively been proposed to be a variant of the oddball‐sensitive, domain‐general P3 component. In particular, both components might reflect phasic norepinephrine release from the locus coeruleus (LC/NE) to motivationally significant stimuli. In this preregistered study, we tested this hypothesis by relating both components to the task‐evoked pupillary response, a putative biomarker of LC/NE activity. 36 participants completed a sentence comprehension task (containing 25% morphosyntactic violations) and a non‐linguistic oddball task (containing 20% oddballs), while the EEG and pupil size were co‐registered. Our results showed that the task‐evoked pupillary response and the ERP amplitudes of both components were similarly affected by both experimental tasks. In the oddball task, there was also a temporally specific relationship between the P3 and the pupillary response beyond the shared oddball effect, thereby further linking the P3 to NE. Because this link was less reliable in the linguistic context, we did not find conclusive evidence for or against a relationship between the P600 and the pupillary response. Still, our findings further stimulate the debate on whether language‐related ERPs are indeed specific to linguistic processes or shared across cognitive domains. However, further research is required to verify a potential link between the two ERP positivities and the LC/NE system as the common neural generator.

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