Written-word concreteness effects in non-attend conditions: Evidence from mismatch responses and cortical oscillations

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3 Citations (Scopus)


It has been widely reported that concrete words have processing advantages over abstract words in terms of speed and efficiency of processing, a phenomenon known as the concreteness effect. However, little is still known about the early time-course of processing concrete and abstract words and whether this concreteness effect can still persist in conditions where attention is not focused on the words presented (automatic processing). This study aimed to shed light on these issues by examining the electrophysiological brain responses to concrete and abstract words. While participants were engaged in a non-linguistic color tracking task presented in the center of the monitor screen, matched Chinese concrete and abstract single-character words appeared within a passive oddball paradigm, out of the focus of attention. In calculating visual Mismatch Negativity (vMMN), Event-related potentials (ERPs) to words of the same semantic category were compared when these words were presented as deviants and standards. Before 320 ms, both abstract and concrete words yielded vMMN with left-lateralized distribution, suggesting similar verbal processing at an initial processing stage. After 320 ms, only concrete words additionally elicited vMMN with a central distribution. Time frequency (TF) analysis of the results also revealed larger theta power increase (200-300 ms) and theta power phase locking (200-450 ms) for concrete than for abstract words. Interestingly, there was more alpha power decrease for abstract than for concrete words from 300 to 450 ms. This may reflect the greater difficulty in processing abstract meaning. Taken together, our ERP and TF results point to the existence of different neural mechanisms underlying non-attentive processing of abstract and concrete words.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2455
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberDEC
Publication statusPublished - 13 Dec 2018


  • Alpha power decrease
  • Chinese single-character words
  • Concreteness effect
  • Phase locking
  • Theta power increase
  • Timefrequency (TF) analysis
  • Visual mismatch negativity (vMMN)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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