Resident Moron

Bringing it.

Method: The Time Course of Phonological Activation in Visual Word Recognition: An ERP Investigation

What follows is the Method section to my undergraduate thesis, submitted March 10, 2008.



Fifteen right-handed English speaking undergraduate students at Acadia University (age range 17-24) participated in this study. Participants responded to advertisements regarding participation in a psycholinguistic study on campus. All participants had normal or corrected-to-normal vision, and none reported a history of neurological disorders or learning disabilities. Informed consent was given by participants prior to the commencement of the study, and participants received either course credit or monetary compensation for taking part. The study was approved by the Psychology Department’s Ethics Review Committee.


Word and nonword stimuli were chosen for use in a lexical decision task. In the first stage of stimulus development, homophone pairs were extracted from Van Orden (1987), Lukatela and Turvey (1994), Jared and Seidenberg (1991), and Jared, Levy, and Rayner (1999). To generate new target words for the homophone pairs, one half of the homophone pairs, the appropriate primes, were presented to 20 volunteer students and colleagues in printed form. Volunteers were requested to read each word individually and to then write down the first three word associates that came to mind; in the case that they could not think of an associate quickly, they were instructed to move on to the next word. An experimental list of target words was assembled using the most frequently and reliably associated pairs generated by the task (e.g., doe—deer, find—lost).

The final stimulus set consisted of 150 homophones selected based on their CELEX frequency count (a word frequency database established from the COBUILD/Birmingham corpus), defined as the frequency of occurrence in one million words. All homophones had a low frequency of occurrence (e.g., frequency less than 30 per million). Half were the target-appropriate homophones or exemplars (e.g., bear; M = 8.25), and half were their homophone error mates (e.g., bare; M = 7.39). Finally, spelling control words (e.g., beer) were matched in frequency to the homophone error words (M = 9.90) and for orthographic similarity to the appropriate homophones. The orthographic similarity was calculated using Weber’s graphemic similarity index (Weber, 1970), the formula to which appears in Van Orden (1987). Orthographic similarity between the homophone pairs (M = 0.627) was matched to that between the spelling controls and the appropriate homophones (M = 0.636). Each member of a stimulus triplet (e.g., exemplar, homophone error, spelling control) was paired with a target word (e.g., animal), to which only the appropriate homophone (e.g., bear) was semantically related. The 75 homophone error words, 75 appropriate homophones, and 75 spelling control words, as well as the target words, appear in Appendix A. For ease of discrimination and to prevent perceptual priming, primes in the study were presented in uppercase and targets in lowercase (e.g., BEAR—animal).

Three stimulus lists were created. Each list consisted of an equal number of appropriate homophones, homophone errors, and spelling control words. Only one member of a stimulus triplet occurred in each list. In addition to these critical prime-target pairs, each stimulus list contained 50% filler prime-target pairs, whose targets were nonwords derived from the actual targets by changing 1-3 letters depending on the word length. Filler items were included in order to balance the number of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses to the lexical decision task. An equal balance of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses precludes the development of a response strategy. Therefore, of the targets presented in each list, 16.67% were appropriate homophones, 16.67% were homophone error words, 16.67% were spelling control words, and 50% were nonwords. The prime-target pairs in each list were presented in a pseudorandom order, with no condition appearing more than three times in a row.

A practice sequence of 12 prime-target pairs was also generated; six of these pairs had targets that were nonword fillers. Of the trials with real-word targets, all prime-target pairs consisted of stimuli cut from the original lists due to control issues (e.g., frequency above 30 in CELEX, inconsistent pronunciations), and so none appeared in the experimental word sets. Of the six primes with ‘yes’ target responses, two were appropriate homophones, two were error homophones, and two were spelling control words.


Participants were tested individually. They read and signed the consent form (see Appendix B), and were given the opportunity to ask questions or decline participation before having the electrode cap prepared. Participants were seated approximately 1 meter from a 19-inch monitor in a comfortable chair in a darkened room.

During the experimental trials, a fixation cross appeared on the center of the screen for 2000 ms to direct the participant’s gaze to the appropriate position. The fixation cross was replaced by a forward mask (seven pound signs: “#######”) presented for 100 ms. The mask was followed by presentation of the prime (e.g., BEAR) in uppercase letters for 67 ms, which was immediately replaced by a backward mask (e.g., a jumbled series of uppercase consonants, e.g., CLFJRTD) presented for 20 ms. Finally, the target word appeared in lowercase letters, and remained on the screen until the participant responded. The intertrial interval was a black screen that appeared for 2000 ms. All stimuli were presented in black text on a white background in 24-point Courier New font. Figure 1 illustrates an example of a typical trial, in this case from the exemplar condition, and its timing. Participants were instructed to silently read the word/nonword appearing in lowercase letters on the computer monitor and to decide whether it was a word or a nonword. They were asked to press the ‘1’ key on a respond pad if the stimulus appearing was a word and the ‘3’ key if the stimulus was a nonword. The stimuli preceding presentation of the target were presented too quickly to allow for overt identification. Although participants were aware that something had been flashed on the screen, they were asked to ignore this information and to direct their attention to the item presented in lowercase letters.

[Figure 1 broken: to come]

Figure 1. An example of a typical trial and its timing. This particular trial is from the exemplar condition, in which the target is primed by the appropriate homophone pair.

In order to reduce participant fatigue, each stimulus list was subdivided into three blocks of trials, with each block lasting approximately three minutes for a total of nine minutes of testing. The order of list presentation (e.g., List 1, List 2, List 3) was counterbalanced across participants, as was the ordering of trial blocks (e.g., List 1A, List 1B, List 1C) within each list. Therefore, each list was presented once per participant with the ordering of trial blocks changing for each participant.

Once all trials were completed, participants were debriefed about the intentions and expectations of the experiment (see Appendix C). Participants were also given the opportunity to view the results of the experiment upon completion.

Electrophysiological recordings

The electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded from 9 sites (Fz, F3, F4, Cz, C3, C4, Pz, P3, P4) according to the standard international 10-20 system (Jasper, 1963) using Ag/AgCl electrodes embedded in a cap and referenced to the nose tip. An electrode in the cap served as the ground. Activity was recorded from scalp sites using electrodes embedded in an electrode cap. The electrooculogram (EOG) was obtained from additional electrodes placed above the left eye to record the vertical EOG (VEOG), and on the outer canthus of the left eye to record the horizontal EOG (HEOG). Figure 2 illustrates the approximate location of each of these electrode sites on the scalp. Electrode impedances were kept below 5 kΏ. EEG and EOG were amplified and processed with ASA-lab software (Advanced Neuro Technologies). Stimuli and trigger codes were delivered by E-Prime software (Psychological Software Tools, Inc.). The EEG and EOG were amplified with a bandpass of 0.1 to 40 Hz and were continuously sampled at a rate of 256 Hz for the duration of the experiment. Data were epoched off-line from 200 ms pre- to 800 ms post-stimulus onset, and digitally filtered with a low pass filter setting of 20 Hz. Trials contaminated with EOG activity greater than +/- 75 µV (microvolts) were removed from the analysis. ERPS were averaged within each condition for each participant, time-locked to the onset of the target stimulus.


Figure 2. An electrode montage.

March 23, 2009 Posted by | Writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Introduction: The Time Course of Phonological Activation in Visual Word Recognition: An ERP Investigation

What follows is the abstract and introduction to my thesis, submitted March 10, 2008.


The present study used event-related potentials (ERPs) to investigate the role and time course of phonology in visual word recognition during silent reading. Participants (N = 15) performed a lexical decision on target words (e.g., animal) that were preceded by one of three masked primes: exemplars of the target word (e.g., bear), words that were homophonic to the exemplar, referred to as homophone foils (e.g., bare); or words that were orthographically similar to the target word, referred to as spelling controls (e.g., beer). Three ERP components were of particular interest: the N250, the classic N400, and the P600. No differences between homophones and controls were found, although varying effects emerged in each of the time windows examined. The results suggest that the selection of a word’s meaning does not depend on its phonological form, but rather that phonology plays a role after its selection.

The Time Course of Phonological Activation in Visual Word Recognition: An ERP Investigation

Language is an ability that adapted in humans over time and remains unique to humans to this day. The ability to read is crucial to success in modern society; from the relatively simple task of following directions or instructions, to gaining complex knowledge from books, journals and the internet, reading is a tool we use every day. Few can achieve an education without this ability; an education that, in turn, can lead to a well-paying job and numerous opportunities one could not otherwise afford. It seems, then, that the development of reading progresses in our lifetime from learning to read, to reading to learn.

Learning to read involves associating the visual form of a word (i.e., its orthography, symbolized as O) to its meaning (i.e., semantics, symbolized as S). According to the dual-route theory of reading (Coltheart, Rastle, Perry, Langdon, & Ziegler, 2001), this process can happen along one of two pathways: the direct route, in which a reader achieves meaning directly from the orthography (O –> S), and the indirect or phonological route, in which phonology (e.g., the way a word sounds, symbolized as P) acts as a mediator between orthography and meaning (O –> P –> S). The triangle model, based on connectionist principles, proposes a single mechanism for visual word recognition in which a distributed pattern of activation across phonology, orthography, and semantic units determines word meaning (Harm & Seidenberg, 2004; Seidenberg & McClelland, 1989). Computational models show that the triangle model is more accurate when the direct and phonological routes act cooperatively, with the division of labour between each route depending on factors such as word frequency and homophony (Newman, Haigh, & Jared, in press).

The goal of visual word recognition research has traditionally been to determine the extent to which a reader relies on orthography and phonology in order to activate a word’s meaning. Understanding how meaning is activated during reading has strong implications in early reading education and therapy for reading disabilities. For instance, differing views as to whether we rely more on the direct versus the phonological route when reading, led to in-depth debates about whether children should be taught to read via a whole-word approach or a phonetic approach (Castle, Riach, & Nicholson, 1994; Gathercole & Baddeley, 1989; Jeynes & Littell, 2000; Manning & Kamii, 2000; Vellutino, 1991). A general consensus has emerged that the phonological route is pivotal to beginning readers (see Adams, 1990). Ehri (1992) suggests that one logical function of the phonological route is to strengthen direct connections between print and meaning, which would consequently diminish one’s reliance on phonology as reading skill improves. Several studies have offered support for this view by suggesting that a direct approach to reading is the most common finding in studies with adults. This view is often referred to as a weak phonological theory because it argues that the extent of phonology’s influence on visual word recognition is dependent on various mediating factors, such as reading skill, homophony, and word frequency (Coltheart et al., 1991; Jared, Levy, & Rayner, 1999). Having said that, there are still proponents of so-called strong phonology theories of reading, which contend that phonology is activated during reading regardless of skill level and psycholinguistic factors, such as word frequency and homophony (Frost, 1998; Lukatela & Turvey, 1994). The current study will use electrophysiological measures during a visual word recognition task in order to distinguish these competing theories. Before describing the goals of the current study, however, it is important to summarize previous work examining the role of phonology in reading.

Questions surrounding the role of phonology in reading have been traditionally studied through the use of homophones and/or pseudohomophones. Homophones are words with identical pronunciations, but which differ in spelling, derivation and meaning (e.g., bear/bare). Pseudohomophones are nonword stimuli that share their phonological representation, but not their orthographic representation with real words (e.g., brane). The rationale for using homophonous items is as follows: if phonology mediates word recognition, then presentation of a homophone (e.g., bare) or a pseudohomophone (e.g., brane) will result in the semantic activation of the unseen homophone mate (e.g., bear) or the pseudohomophone’s base word (e.g., brain), respectively. If it can be shown that the meaning of the unseen homophone mate (or the pseudohomophone’s base word) has been activated, then we can infer that phonology has mediated the computation of meaning.

Evidence for homophone effects has been observed in studies employing the homophone error paradigm. In this paradigm, the member of a homophone pair that is appropriate to the experimental context (e.g., bear) is replaced by its partner, the homophone error word (or homophone foil; e.g., bare). If participants fail to notice the homophone foil, then the inference is made that the phonological representation of the homophone foil resulted in activation of the unseen correct homophone. Due to the high degree of orthographic overlap between many homophones, it is essential for a spelling control word to be present in experiments employing the homophone error paradigm. A well-developed spelling control word should be as orthographically similar to the appropriate homophone as the homophone error word, and should also approximate the homophone error in word frequency. For example, for the homophone pair, bear-bare, an appropriate spelling control word would be the word beer. Thus, if participants fail to notice the homophone error, then the effect can be attributed to the shared phonological representations between the correct homophone and the homophone foil, and not to their orthographic similarity.

Van Orden (1987) manipulated orthographic similarity and homophony (homophone errors or ‘foils’ and spelling controls, which represented the key trials) in a series of semantic categorization experiments in which participants were asked to determine whether a presented word was part of a specified category. He found that participants made significantly more false-positive errors to the phonemically-similar homophone foils (e.g., rows) than to their spelling controls (e.g., robs); similarly, there were more errors to the nonword foils (e.g., roze) than to their spelling controls (e.g., rone). This finding was referred to as a phonological interference effect because the sound of the foil interfered with participants’ decision-making processes, leading them to falsely judge a homophone foil as being an exemplar of the prompted category (e.g., rose in the category Flowers). Furthermore, Van Orden, Pennington, & Stone (1990) determined that the size of the homophone effect was dependent on the frequency of the unseen exemplar, such that the effect was larger if the exemplar was lower in frequency than its presented homophone mate. More importantly, however, Van Orden et al. still observed a homophone effect for high frequency words. Their findings led to the development of the spell check theory. According to this theory, when more than one meaning is activated by presentation of a homophone, we must retrieve the appropriate orthographic representation of the presented word (e.g., its spelling) in order to resolve the competition. When the appropriate homophone is a low frequency word, however, its spelling is more difficult to retrieve, leading to an increase in false-positive errors. The homophone effect can therefore be defined as an increase in processing or reaction time, and/or in false-positive errors, associated with the presentation of a homophone error.

Van Orden’s (1987) results were called into question by Jared and Seidenberg (1991), who claimed that his categories were overly specific, allowing participants to predict category exemplars even before they were presented. Thus, phonological activation could occur due to contextual priming, and not to the generation of a phonological representation directly from the printed word form. By proposing the use of general categories (e.g., living thing and object) in their semantic categorization study, Jared and Seidenberg (1991) examined whether the observed homophone effects in Van Orden (1987) and Van Orden et al. (1990) were exaggerated. They hypothesized that broad categories would reduce the probability that participants could generate semantic candidates proper to stimulus presentation. This reduction of phonological effects was precisely what the authors found; although homophone effects were still observed for low frequency homophone foils with low frequency exemplars, they failed to observe homophone effects for high frequency words when broad semantic categories were employed. On the basis of these results, Jared & Seidenberg (1991) argued that phonological activation of meaning occurs only for low frequency words, and that the direct route is favoured for high frequency words.

The impact of phonology on reading for meaning has also been studied in tasks that closely resemble reading, such as proofreading and sentence verification tasks. Jared, Levy and Rayner (1999) took into account predictability and frequency within their proofreading task, which they administered to both high- and low-skilled readers. Their study involved monitoring eye movements while participants read passages or sentences in which an appropriate homophone was replaced by a homophone foil or a spelling control. The only reliable evidence for phonological activation of meaning was found for low frequency homophone foils replacing low frequency correct exemplars; these findings were consistent with those of Jared & Seidenberg (1991). Furthermore, Jared et al. (1999) found that reading skill modulated phonological influences on reading for meaning. Good readers produced an orthographic pattern of eye movements; they had longer gaze durations for homophone foils compared to correct homophones and similar gaze durations for homophone foils and spelling controls. In contrast, the gaze durations for poor readers followed a phonological pattern; they had shorter gaze durations for homophone foils compared to spelling controls, and their gaze durations for homophone foils and correct homophones were similar.

A lexical decision task (LDT) involving homophonous items is often used to study the role of phonology in reading. In this task, the time it takes for a person to decide the lexical nature of items presented (whether or not it is a real word) is measured. It has been argued that this shallower level of processing, compared to reading for meaning, does not require the reader to understand the word in its context, allowing for an early phase in the word-recognition process to be revealed (Pexman, Lupker, & Jared, 2001). If phonology actively contributes to word recognition, then one would predict that low-frequency homophones would delay ‘word’ responses, assuming a spelling check has been employed to select between alternative meanings. Similarly, pseudohomophones (e.g., brane) would be expected to delay ‘nonword’ responses, since the spell check must operate to discriminate between the read word and the nonword foil. Pexman et al. conducted a LDT involving both homophones varying in frequency, and pseudohomophones varying in orthographic familiarity. In their study, they matched the word frequency of homophones to spelling control words (e.g., pain/pear), and matched the bodies of pseudohomophones and pseudowords (nonwords, e.g., RADE, CADE) for orthographic similarity. In addition, they varied the orthographic familiarity of the nonword (pseudohomophone and pseudoword) stimuli. In the wordlike context, the nonwords had orthographic representations that were similar to real English words (e.g., rade, cade). However, in the non-wordlike context, the nonwords had orthographic representations that were atypical of English words (e.g., golph, tolph). The authors expected that the atypicality of the nonwords in the non-wordlike context would allow participants to make their lexical decision based on a superficial analysis of orthographic factors, and thereby, reduce any influence of phonology on word recognition. The results revealed two main influential factors modulating homophone effects. First, adding support to past research, homophone frequency influenced the speed and accuracy of lexical decisions. More specifically, homophone effects were largest for low frequency homophones with higher frequency mates. Second, homophone and pseudohomophone effects were larger when nonwords had a familiar orthographic representations. When pseudohomophones and pseudowords had atypical orthographic representations, no evidence for homophone or pseudohomophone effects were observed. In summary, Pexman et al. concluded that readers do activate phonology during visual word recognition, but that the extent of phonological activation is influenced by word frequency and orthographic familiarity.

While the homophone error paradigm has provided support for a weak phonological theory of word recognition, findings from studies using fast priming procedures (e.g., prime is presented too quickly to permit overt identification) have been cited as evidence in support of the strong phonological theory of word recognition (Lukatela & Turvey, 1994). The fast priming procedure involves presenting a prime for a duration that is too quick to permit its overt identification, followed immediately by presentation of a related or unrelated target. In this task, participants are required to respond only to the target; however, their processing of the target is assumed to be covertly affected by a related prime. So-called phonological priming effects occur when reaction times to targets (e.g., clip) are faster for phonologically related primes (e.g., klip) compared to orthographically related primes (e.g., clep). Evidence for phonological priming has been found with brief prime exposures (e.g., 14 ms), leading to the conclusion that phonology is generated automatically and provides the primary code by which meaning is accessed (Lukatela & Turvey, 1994). However, based on findings in which phonological priming lagged behind orthographic priming, the former occurring only with longer prime exposures, some theorists argue that orthography provides the primary constraint on word recognition (Ferrand & Grainger, 1994). Since the current study employs a fast priming procedure, a brief review of the literature in this area is in order.

Lukatela and Turvey (1994) conducted a seminal study in which participants were required to name out loud a target word (e.g., frog) that was preceded by an associate (e.g., TOAD), a word (e.g., TOWED) or nonword (e.g., TODE) homophonic with the associate, or an orthographic control (e.g., TOLD) of the associate. At brief (e.g., 50 ms) stimulus onset asynchronies (SOAs), the associate prime and the homophonic primes (e.g., TOWED and TODE) produced equal associative priming; however, no priming was observed for the orthographic controls. At longer SOAs, homophonic words (e.g., TOWED) led to associative priming whereas homophonic nonwords did not. In addition, at longer SOAs, associative priming in orthographic controls was observed for the words (e.g.., TOLD) but not for the nonwords. Based on these results, Lukatela and Turvey (1994) concluded that phonology provides the initial code by which a word’s lexical representation is accessed. They acknowledged the responsibility of orthographic structure in reducing lexical competition following activation by the word’s phonological code. In other words, the way a word sounds is important in activating its corresponding lexical representation, whereas the way a word looks is important in selecting the word’s activated representation from other, simultaneously activated representations (e.g., choosing between TOWED and TOAD).

Lukatela and Turvey’s (1994) choice of a naming task has been criticized on grounds that naming invariably activates phonological output codes, which could have produced exaggerated phonological priming effects (Holyk & Pexman, 2004). Ferrand and Grainger (1994) conducted a similar study, but within the context of a lexical decision task. These authors manipulated prime duration (the length of time for which a prime word is presented to the participant) from 14-57 ms, to examine the possibility that orthographic and phonological processes follow different time courses, with orthographic information being accessed earlier than phonological information. They employed a masked form priming procedure, which involves the presentation of a fully visible word either before (forward masking) and/or after (backward masking) the prime word. The purpose of masking is to overwrite the sensory representation of the prime and block elaborate processing. The results of their study showed clear evidence of orthographic priming, but no evidence of phonological priming with a 29 ms prime duration exposures. Phonological priming did develop, but only with longer prime exposures (> 67 ms). These results conflict with those of Lukatela and Turvey (1994) and suggest that the difference in task, naming versus LDT, may play a role in the timing of phonological activation.

Ziegler, Ferrand, Jacobs, Rey, and Grainger (2000) employed an incremental priming technique, which adds a parametric manipulation of prime duration to the traditional design of a fast masked priming study. In the two previous studies mentioned, prime duration was manipulated, but not within the same list of stimuli. The advantage of the parametric manipulation is that additional information on the time course and nature of priming effects can be obtained. Zeigler et al’s (2000) findings replicated those of Ferrand and Grainger (1994); priming in the orthographic condition occurred with brief prime durations (29 ms), while phonological priming did not occur until prime durations were increased. Interestingly, as prime duration increased, orthographic priming did not continue to increase, whereas phonological priming continued to increase steadily with increasing prime duration. The researchers concluded that orthographic information is activated at the earliest stages of word recognition, while phonological priming emerges at a later stage.

Conflicting results suggest the possibility that the experimental methods employed in past studies lacked the necessary sensitivity to answer such a question. Evidence for rapid activation of phonological codes has been obtained repeatedly with the masked priming paradigm at brief prime durations (Lukatela & Turvey, 1994; Rastle & Brysbaert, 2006), but it is possible that longer prime durations cannot be properly studied without the more sensitive measures provided by event-related brain potentials (ERPs). The exquisite temporal resolution and continuous index of neural activity provided by ERP measures can be used to clarify the sequencing and timing of phonological effects, overcoming the limitations of the ‘end-point’ explanatory approach necessarily utilized in behavioral studies. The use of ERP measures to examine the impact of phonology in reading is a relatively new approach.

Historically, ERP research on reading has concentrated on semantic processing, focusing on one ERP response in particular, the N400. This component is defined as a negative-going brain wave at 400 ms post-stimulus presentation, and the response was first demonstrated by manipulating the terminal words of visually presented, contextually constrained sentences (Kutas & Hillyard, 1980). It was found that the N400 was larger to words that violated semantic expectations (e.g., He spread the warm bread with socks) than to semantically appropriate words (e.g., He spread the warm bread with butter). These early results have been supported by numerous studies (Bentin, 1987; Holcomb & Neville, 1990; Bentin, Kutas, & Hillyard, 1993; Connolly, Phillips & Forbes, 1995), with the general consensus being that the N400 reflects an index of semantic congruity.

A few ERP studies have investigated the impact of phonology in the activation of word meanings using the logic of the homophone error paradigm. The rationale of these studies was that if participants detect a semantically inappropriate word, then an N400 would be elicited. Spelling control words (e.g., beer) would be expected to produce a larger N400 response than would correct target words (e.g., bear), since the former are semantically inappropriate to the context (e.g., animal). The critical question was whether the N400 to homophone foils (e.g., bare) would be smaller than that observed for spelling controls, indicating that meanings were activated by phonology, or whether the N400 to homophone foils would be similar in amplitude to that observed for spelling controls, indicating that meanings were activated directly by orthography.

Ziegler, Benraiss, and Besson (1999) used an ERP study to investigate the role of phonology in a semantic categorization task modeled after Van Orden (1987). They expected that a direct O –> S pathway to meaning would result in a larger N400 to homophones (e.g., meet) than to exemplars (e.g., meat) of a semantic category (e.g., food). Orthographic control words (e.g., maid) were also used, and these stimuli were matched to the homophones for word frequency and number of letters. Behaviourally, it was found that participants made significantly more errors in rejecting homophone foils that sounded like members of the category than in rejecting orthographic control words; they also took longer to correctly reject the homophones. In the ERP data, however, results were more difficult to interpret. Ziegler et al. (1999) analyzed the latency bands in three epochs: 0-300 ms, 300-800 ms, and 800-1600 ms. The results were similar across the two earlier latency periods: homophone foils and orthographic controls did not differ in N400 amplitude, suggesting that readers relied on the direct route in accessing the meaning of the presented word. However, in the later latency period (800-1600 ms), homophone foils and orthographic controls diverged, and the homophone amplitudes closely resembled those of category exemplars (more positive-going). Ziegler et al. (1999) interpreted their results as providing evidence for a direct orthographic path to meaning, with phonology exerting an influence on meaning selection at a later stage, well after the direct activation of the appropriate meaning.

The first ERP study to examine the impact of phonology using a masked priming paradigm was conducted by Grainger, Kiyonaga, and Holcomb (2006). They employed the masked priming paradigm and kept prime duration constant at 50 ms. Based on previous ERP studies, they expected their manipulation of phonology and orthography to modulate the N250 component, which is hypothesized to reflect sublexical processing during visual word recognition, and the N400 component, which – as discussed – is thought to reflect semantic processing. Their central prediction was that the N250 component should be modified by both orthographic primes and phonological primes, and that the onsets of these two effects should be different. Results were analyzed in three latency bands: 150-250 ms, 250-350 ms, and 350-550 ms. In the earliest epoch, there was a significant effect of priming for the orthographic control condition at posterior sites, but no significant phonological effects. In the second epoch, a significant priming effect of pseudohomophones was seen reliably only at anterior sites, but none was observed for the orthographic condition. Finally, in the latest epoch (where the bulk of activity resembling the classic N400 component was observed), priming effects were significant for pseudohomophones across the scalp, while there was no significant effect for the orthographic condition once again. When it comes down to the time course of phonology, these results placed orthographic effects as emerging about 50 ms earlier than phonological effects. Grainger et al. concluded that their data provided clear evidence for fast phonological priming in conditions in which all possible contamination factors are eliminated, and provides an upper boundary for the time at which phonology starts to have an influence (approximately 250 ms post-target onset).

One of the objectives of the current research was to clarify the role of phonology in skilled reading using ERP measures. Grainger et al. (2006) failed to include an appropriate homophone in their study to compare results with those of the homophonic foil condition; the present study made use of both appropriate homophones and homophone foils, as well as an orthographic control condition. A masked priming paradigm was used in conjunction with a lexical decision task in order to examine the time course of phonology, with prime duration kept constant at 67 ms (see Ferrand & Grainger, 1993). Only low frequency homophones were used in the present study, based on work showing that homophone effects are largest when optimal selection competition is provided (a low frequency or unfamiliar exemplar is harder to identify as correct when put next to a low frequency error word than is a high frequency exemplar). It was expected that a homophone effect would be observed through a decrease in the N400 component in the homophone error primes relative to the spelling control words. Also of interest to the present study were the N250 component and the P600 component, said to be triggered when the brain encounters an unexpected linguistic item instead of the one that was expected (a post-lexical effect; Vissers, Chwilla, & Kolk, 2006). It was expected that no homophone effects would be observed in the N250 component, consistent with Grainger et al.’s (2006) observations.

March 23, 2009 Posted by | Educational, Writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Sexualization of a Common Cold

You know you’ve got talent when you can make the stuffy misery of chest congestion and nasal leakage sound sexy (aka. the opposite of what I just achieved). Warning: Some foul language and adult imagery ahead:

I am sicker than shit today…I am lying in bed typing this to you as my throat burns with the power of 1000 suns.  I am slowly bringing my tea to my mouth – the hot, milky tea. I am sipping the tea and thinking about how I want to cough up a storm all over my keyboard.  My throat is dry, but nothing that the hot, milky tea won’t fix.  My nose is running…running quickly, I can barely keep up.  It’s making me moan and whimper.  I want to scream I’m so sick!  I reach for the Vick’s vapour rub, and rub it all over my chest.  The sticky vapour rub is making me lubed up, and loosening everything up.  Does it smell good?  The thought of you bringing me some chicken noodle soup gives me hot flashes of excitement.  Oh God!!  I’m going to sneeze!  I just sneezed all over your soup.  I can’t stop sneezing!  Mucus is squirting out of my nose!  Fuck, baby…I can’t wait to get this out of my system again.

Whatever I’m feeling now, it’s definitely inappropriate. (via an email exchange with anonymous, a VERY good student of the art of cybering.)

February 25, 2009 Posted by | Funny, Writing | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

South Park Amigurumi

I want, I want! (via sukigirl.)

February 12, 2009 Posted by | South Park | , , , , , | Leave a comment

South Park Words of Wisdom


Controversial language and [often tragic] comedic stunts aside, South Park is inarguably one of the important shows of our generation. The breadth of its influence can be demonstrated simply in noting the number of consumers who love it…overshadowed infinitely by those who hate it. After all, it is self-admittedly vulgar, prone to indulgent exaggerations of events and characters (especially celebrity imitations), warranting its opening recommendation to “not be viewed by anyone.” Frankly, you can’t say they didn’t warn you.

What lends largely to the distaste directed towards South Park is that it cannot escape the reality common to any thing denied to a certain group: if members of the sanctioned group want it (as the presence of a restriction guarantees they will), they will attain it. Age groups that enjoy crude humor (namely, teenagers) that is frowned upon by others will bask in the superficial rebellion offered by South Park’s reputation. From unsupervised children with cable or Internet, to zealots who actively strive to denounce the evils of their particular vision, any viewer is vulnerable to drawing the wrong messages – the definition of which depends upon the viewer – from the perspective presented in any particular episode. And there are many.

Beyond general disagreement and personal differences, misinterpretation and misuse are harmful risks associated with any public assertion of opinion. What distinguishes South Park, a crudely animated cartoon in its twelfth season, from other important contemporary cartoons, specifically the 18-season (and still highly-regarded) The Simpsons or the riskier yet still family-oriented Family Guy, is this: it targets individuals, or those with an independently-oriented point of view, rather than family. The aforementioned dangers exist where contradicting opinions are strong or emotionally driven, and where social flaws or criticisms are exposed; consequently, those who appreciate the minds behind its expression are, predictably, the minority. What is more contradictory than the modern-day definition of the family unit or the roles within, and the transitions that threaten established traditions? These very characteristics are the fire and brimstone of South Park, a youth versus elder struggle brilliantly manipulated by creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

The rejection of these family-friendly characteristics is, not surprisingly, criticized most loudly by parents, who tend to deem the show unfit for impressionable minds, the minds upon which the burden of a functional, responsible society will rest; corruptible minds, which are expected to lose some desirable quality or other through enjoyment or acceptance of South Park’s humor. Ironically, its charm and plot basis rest firmly on this concern and flips it on its rear: viewers follow a rational group of 8-year-olds as they learn from their experiences and assess their own beliefs. Their adult superiors are the bumbling bystanders in each adventure, getting in the way time and again with their “age is wisdom” attitudes, ignorant to the issues and resources that surround them. Perhaps, then, negative attitudes toward South Park reflect – and might better serve to be directed toward – the current trend of the North American youth to stray from tradition, and within this movement ultimately reject the motto of past generations, to “respect your elders.” However, this suggested influence of attitudes through media exposure is an entirely complex debate on its own; the same supporters of non-censorship in the media (currently, violence on television or in video games) would argue that the popularity of the humor embraced by South Park exists merely as a byproduct – or critical observation, to give due credit to the writers – of social change as it occurs.

Beyond the overwhelming interest surrounding the stimulating debate regarding media in modern society is a disguised question: where can the blame be placed? Despite the threat of negative judgment, SP is able to prosper because it does have morally valuable lessons to contribute, though part of its charm is that learning requires some dedication on part of the viewer. The lessons are generally made obvious in some discussion of growth at the end of each episode, but the process is entertaining only to those with certain intellectual qualities. From my experience, the target audience seems to be those with the social awareness to understand the particular topic under review or make the appropriate analogies, the open mindedness to assume nothing, and the patience to mentally digest the wisdom hidden under the superficial layers that decorate it. Unfortunately, this involves viewing the frequent fart and feces jokes as part of a self-mocking comedic stance, a general oversight that likely lends to the show’s reputation of attracting a ‘less mature’ fan-base.

A large proportion of South Park’s episodes address the politics of society or current events, albeit ironic portrayals. This is part of a genius ability demonstrated by the writers to avoid direct association with suggested views or social observations, via techniques such as stereotypical role-switching (in the SP world, victims become persecutors and the weak, the strong), exaggeration of stereotypes to the point of disbelief, and false denial of the intended point (providing a statement so obviously false that the perceptive viewer receives the intended message). For these reasons, the creators of SP feel it necessary to encourage viewership only for those who, having developed a certain level of maturity, can distinguish between the intentions and agendas of those they encounter as a self-providing adult and involved citizen.

Yes, the South Park humor is likely attractive to only a specific subgroup of society, judging by the disappointingly few addicts I have met (and the intense closeness I feel to these people immediately), but I have seen through experience that even its Haters can be converted. My mission continues.


February 10, 2009 Posted by | Educational, South Park, Television, Writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Nod to a Missed Opportunity

(Written 2004-05)

I know it’s odd to notice now
The way you make me feel
Always there, you were my mark
The one I could count on, the one I thought
might count on me.
I could see us together but that’s just how I feel when I’m with you
I liked you too much to “be with” you
Every Christmas song I hear, I think of you
And now, hearing of another girl, I have to hide
There’s just a funny thing inside
I guess you’re not really mine, you’re my friend
And I am yours…

Your friend.

February 10, 2009 Posted by | Writing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Letter From Your Copy Editor

This was written in my days as Copy Editor for my university paper…

As your copy editor, I’d like to apologize

…for the errors that appear on these pages every week. But I won’t.

I’m not pointing fingers at a person, but at a mentality; many of us at university are procrastinators, and sometimes our lifestyle is even catered to.

It’s easy to fall into the small-school, know-your-prof-well-enough-to-ask-for-a-break thing. But something backfired! It has come to the point where I prefer to go to class when I truly feel like shit, because at the on-campus clinic I am greeted with suspicion when I ask for a sick note.

Many profs have risen to the occasion and decided that, unless faced with a serious illness or death of a family member, there is no such thing as an extension. You know what? I like that. I work well under pressure.

In the real world, employers won’t hear excuses. You have your work done or you don’t, and that’s all it comes down to. You will be judged on it. Yes, you ARE expected to juggle everything. It IS unfair. The turning point is when you decide to suck it up and work with it.

I know many students at school who don’t take breaks. They work their asses off and, if necessary, party it off after. The fact is that they do the work, and the rest of us need to step our game up.

It’s great that students can hold together a newspaper with very little direct help. I applaud the employees of the ____ for balancing yet another deadline. Every week they track down stories that will interest you, the readers, and try to cover them all with or without your help. As was the case two weeks ago, we missed one (“___ ______ elected as International Student Rep”). I do not call that racism, though I admit there are huge divisions on campus – I call that an oversight.

I often feel that my job is useless. When deadlines for this newspaper are pushed because articles are not covered or handed in on time, my already overwhelmed coworkers (and loyal contributors) are forced to write a great deal of the content themselves.

[Sidebar: Sex Geeks, our popular ex-column, became a burden on the same few people who “created” new sexual revolutions to entertain and educate the masses by Friday every week. If you have a great idea, please let us (me) know!]

Back to it: due to ‘extensions’, my job is usually transferred from Saturday to Sunday to Monday during classes, and sometimes even Tuesday. Often I don’t even see half the articles that are run, because the editors need to rush them to the page then to the printer on time.

We’re all busy. I wish we could all write our papers, articles, and whatnot as if we had the time to care, or the time to accurately reflect our intelligence.

The nature of the periodical industry (not unlike other professional industries) revolves almost solely around deadlines. As students, it is our responsibility to prepare ourselves for success beyond university, and with exams right around the corner there is no better time to buckle down.

Except tomorrow.

February 10, 2009 Posted by | Writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Poetry Review: “I Cut My Finger” by Stuart Ross

Whimsical and surreal, I Cut My Finger plucks images from different ends of the brain to recreate our concepts of everyday objects in an absurd and original, yet accessible, fashion. From the quirky front cover, where scratchy penmanship and minimalist sketches depict the feature poems, to opening works “The Door” and “I Cut My Finger,” the reader is introduced to a world where up is not necessarily up, and where word play and philosophical observation of material things reveal poetry in unexpected places.

The title poem for this collection sets the lyrical tone to one of constantly restructuring or re-imagining ‘the world as we know it':

… I thought that for me
mountains are big solid things poking into the air,
like at god,
but for people for whom solid
is the absence of solid,
then they’ve got upside-down mountains
pointing towards earth. (I Cut My Finger)

For Stuart Ross, this process entails the deliberate examination of language, which he accomplishes in a true tongue-in-cheek manner. For example, in “I Cut My Finger” he flirts with the literal meaning of the word ‘recount': “Oh the adventures I had climbing, / let me recount them (in case I counted / wrong the first time).” Similarly, he draws attention to the peculiarities of the English language:

I let Misery have one
right in the stomach. (Not
the actual organ itself,
but the place on his body
where the stomach is under.) (How I Became Exquisite)

Not only is the composition and function of words confronted frequently, but also that of material, everyday objects, as in “I Cut My Finger” (“I tried calling Dana but there wasn’t any phone / and I cut my finger / dialing a rock”) and “50 O’Clock” (“Everything was made of something else”). Furthermore, Ross makes no assumptions about the reader’s familiarity with the mundane–he defines everyday forms as though explaining them to an extraterrestrial creature:

He racked his brains to recall
what “don’t” meant and meanwhile
he bumped his head on a building.
A building’s a square thing with a hole inside
where people live or maybe work. (A Guy, Some Flippers, A Building)

In doing so, he effectively demonstrates that words are just symbols of our experience as human beings, symbols that we take for granted in their consistency and meaning until otherwise challenged. Therefore, while the point of view employed by Ross may be uniquely obscure, his mode consistently investigates images from new perspectives to create a patterned art.

In a further exercise of word play, Ross seems at times to write–or organize–according to a stream of consciousness. At the end of “How I Became Exquisite” he writes about “approaching stray orphans,” and the next poem is titled “An Orphan.” This in turn ends with “beside an empty ocean,” and the next poem is titled “The Ocean.” Further along, “The Bed” ends with the attempted burial of a mother; the next poem, “Song,” describes the event of visiting his family members’ graves. This creates a flow within the collection itself, tying together poems and prose which otherwise explore a wide range of topics and experiences.

Another brief exercise of stream of consciousness can be found in “Mary is the Merry One,” where scattered images seem at first randomly organized, except that some association is found to exist among the words (though rarely behind the concepts they conjure or represent). Take the first stanza, for example:

Do you go to many parties?
We joined a party of hunters.
It pays to be particular in choosing a friend.
Sally is my particular friend.

The first line, a straightforward conversation-starter, is followed by a phrase that is unrelated other than employing [a novel exploration of] the word ‘party’. The third line, words of advice, follow semantically from the first (you go to a party with friends, generally). The fourth line restructures the grammatical role of the word ‘particular’ from the third line, accompanied by a repetition of ‘friend’. The remainder of the poem follows in somewhat the same pattern, though at times the method and message are harder to decipher.

Ross expresses throughout his collection some political and media influence, specifically within his piece “What’s Important Now,” thus dating himself to his particular culture and responding appropriately. Ross’s social and sometimes political observations are mirrored by  sharp self-explorations and questioning. In “The Bed” we encounter one philosophical exploration of consciousness and self-existence when Ross states that “A lighting fixture on the ceiling contained several dead flies, but only when it was on.” “Others Like Me” describes the actions we sometimes take or the rationalizations we provide to confirm that we are, in fact, alive, while “I Step Off The Plane” apologizes for the uncertainty and implications of consciousness:

A kitten is curled up, its eyes closed: I cannot tell whether it is sleeping or dead. Oh no, sorry – I cannot tell whether I am sleeping or dead.

Not only does Ross succeed in expressing his thoughts and observations in a concrete fashion, but he also forces the reader to cogitate often odd images and sentiments to find a meaning that speaks to their experiences and understanding. “The Surface” is riddled with oddities of speech, from the self-awareness of the poem itself (“The words agonized over their own inertia”; similarly, in “Sediment,” “…a poet better than me / would insert a really good sediment / metaphor right here. (Or, more poignantly, / here.)”) to phrases that seem to express a sort of nostalgia for past ambitions and ideals. There is also a dreamlike quality and depth to these phrases, which emphasizes the irony of the title. For instance, “she slept urgently amid the words” may evoke a feeling of unease, because our experience of ‘sleep’ and ‘urgency’ are intuitively in conflict. Similarly, later, “I recognized / my eyelids. I could pick them out / in a lineup” seems an impossible phrase because the very act of exposing our eyelids is to give up sight, and so the reader shakes their head and tries again.

The dissonance with which the reader responds to the mixed images generation from Stuart’s mind will give cause to a double-take effect, so to speak, whereby the reader is forced to take better care in pondering their interpretation. This is because, while the descriptive qualities of Ross’s poems paint quite a picture for the reader, the scene is not familiar. In this sense, I would argue that Ross is imparting his imaginative abilities and successfully broadening the horizons of creative thought among his readers.

February 8, 2009 Posted by | Reading, Writing | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Txt Spk

When reflecting on last night, I cannot and will not share the emotion if:

a) You tell me I’m “sxy,” and

b) You describe it as “Awsme! :-)”


Holy crap. Grammar nazi twitch! Er, intelligent being twitch.

February 2, 2009 Posted by | Funny | , , , , , | 1 Comment


It is taking so much strength not to hurt myself every minute of yesterday, every minute of today, probably every minute of tomorrow. The effort is killing me. But not fast enough.

UPDATE: But it comes and goes. Right now, just hours later, I can breathe and smile again. Not a real, full smile but…oh, I don’t know, a devious-plotting smile. I think the thing is to keep taking it a day at a time, and set myself little goals to look forward to. Like a visit to Scotland, a trip to LA…:P Little reasons to keep getting out of bed for myself.

January 26, 2009 Posted by | Depression | Leave a comment


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.