Filling predictable and unpredictable gaps, with and without similarity-based interference: Evidence for LIFG effects of dependency processing

Kimberly Leiken, Brian McElree, Liina Pylkkänen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


One of the most replicated findings in neurolinguistic literature on syntax is the increase of hemodynamic activity in the left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG) in response to object relative (OR) clauses compared to subject relative clauses. However, behavioral studies have shown that ORs are primarily only costly when similarity-based interference is involved and recently, Leiken and Pylkkänen (2014) showed with magnetoencephalography (MEG) that an LIFG increase at an OR gap is also dependent on such interference. However, since ORs always involve a cue indicating an upcoming dependency formation, OR dependencies could be processed already prior to the gap-site and thus show no sheer dependency effects at the gap itself. To investigate the role of gap predictability in LIFG dependency effects, this MEG study compared ORs to verb phrase ellipsis (VPE), which was used as an example of a non-predictable dependency. Additionally, we explored LIFG sensitivity to filler-gap order by including right node raising structures, in which the order of filler and gap is reverse to that of ORs and VPE. Half of the stimuli invoked similarity-based interference and half did not. Our results demonstrate that LIFG effects of dependency can be elicited regardless of whether the dependency is predictable, the stimulus materials evoke similarity-based interference, or the filler precedes the gap. Thus, contrary to our own prior data, the current findings suggest a highly general role for the LIFG in dependency interpretation that is not limited to environments involving similarity-based interference. Additionally, the millisecond time-resolution of MEG allowed for a detailed characterization of the temporal profiles of LIFG dependency effects across our three constructions, revealing that the timing of these effects is somewhat construction-specific.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1739
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberNOV
StatePublished - 2015


  • Filler-gap dependency
  • Left inferior frontal gyrus
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Neurolinguistics
  • Object relative clause
  • Right node raising
  • Similarity-based interference
  • Verb phrase ellipsis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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