DOI: 10.1111/psyp.14491 ISSN: 0048-5772

Multivariate pattern analysis of EEG reveals nuanced impact of negation on sentence processing in the N400 and later time windows

Yifei He, Johanna Sommer, Silvia Hansen‐Schirra, Arne Nagels
  • 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


The neurocognitive mechanism underlying negation processing remains controversial. While negation is suggested to modulate the access of word meaning, no such evidence has been observed in the event‐related potential (ERP) literature on sentence processing. In the current study, we applied both univariate ERP and multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA) methods to examine the processing of sentence negation. We investigated two types of negative congruent/incongruent sentence pairs with truth‐value evaluation (e.g., “A robin is a/not a bird”) and without (e.g., “The woman reads a/no book”). In the N400 time window, ERPs consistently showed increased negativity for negative and incongruent conditions. MVPA, on the other hand, revealed nuanced interactions between polarity and congruency. In the later P600 time window, MVPA but not the ERPs revealed an effect of congruency, which may be functionally distinct from the N400 window. We further used cross‐decoding to show that the cognitive processes underlying the N400 window for both affirmative and negative sentences are comparable, whereas in the P600 window, only for the truth sentences, negative sentences showed a distinct pattern from their affirmative counterparts. Our results thus speak for a more interactive, but nevertheless serial and biphasic, and potentially construction‐specific processing account of negation. We also discuss the advantage of applying MVPA in addition to the classical univariate methods for a better understanding of the neurobiology of negation processing and language comprehension alike.

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