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Operant conditioning of left-hemispheric slow cortical potentials and its effect on word processing.
PULVERMULLER, F., Mohr, B., Schleichert, H. & Veit, R.
Biological Psychology, 53, 177-215
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This study investigated whether language-related cognitive processes can be modified by learned modulation of cortical activity. Study participants received feedback of slow cortical potentials (SCPs) recorded above left-hemispheric language cortices and were reinforced for producing negative and positive shifts upon two different discriminative stimuli. In all subjects who achieved reliable control of left-hemispheric brain responses, substantial modification of word processing was observed. Behavioral modification could be documented in two experiments in which word probes were presented following discriminative stimuli. When negative shifts of the EEG were required, lexical decisions on words were substantially speeded, while they were slowed during positivity conditions. There was no indication for any performance difference between conditions in control subjects who failed to achieve control over slow cortical potentials after feedback training. This result was replicated in an experiment using lateralized-tachistoscopic stimulus presentation. Comparisons of word and pseudoword responses in both experiments indicated that behavioral modification was most pronounced for word responses. It was also not seen in a simple reaction time task not involving language materials. This argues against a global effect related to perception, visuo-spatial attention, or motor processes. We conclude that linguistic processes can be influenced by modification of cortical activity due to operant conditioning. In closing, tentative explanations of the present results based on theories of language and attention processes are being discussed.