The effects of attention and task-relevance on the processing of syntactic violations during listening to two concurrent speech streams

Orsolya Szalárdy, Brigitta Tóth, Dávid Farkas, Annamária Kovács, Gábor Urbán, Gábor Orosz, Beáta Tünde Szabó, László Hunyadi, Botond Hajdu, István Winkler

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2 Citations (Scopus)


The notion of automatic syntactic analysis received support from some event-related potential (ERP) studies. However, none of these studies tested syntax processing in the presence of a concurrent speech stream. Here we present two concurrent continuous speech streams, manipulating two variables potentially affecting speech processing in a fully crossed design: attention (focused vs. divided) and task (lexical – detecting numerals vs. syntactical – detecting syntactic violations). ERPs elicited by syntactic violations and numerals as targets were compared with those for distractors (task-relevant events in the unattended speech stream) and attended and unattended task-irrelevant events. As was expected, only target numerals elicited the N2b and P3 components. The amplitudes of these components did not significantly differ between focused and divided attention. Both task-relevant and task-irrelevant syntactic violations elicited the N400 ERP component within the attended but not in the unattended speech stream. P600 was only elicited by target syntactic violations. These results provide no support for the notion of automatic syntactic analysis. Rather, it appears that task-relevance is a prerequisite of P600 elicitation, implying that in-depth syntactic analysis occurs only for attended speech under everyday listening situations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)932-948
Number of pages17
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2018



  • Attention
  • Concurrent speech streams
  • Lexical processing
  • N2b
  • N400
  • P3
  • P600
  • Syntactic violation processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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