Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS


WORDINFO — Result In Brief

Project ID: 334028
Funded under: FP7-PEOPLE
Country: Netherlands

Information theory and language

An EU team studied the relationship between text complexity and brain processing. The team proposed several new measures explaining brain activity, based on the certainty and accuracy of prediction of upcoming words.
Information theory and language
Words that are less predictable take longer to process by the brain. The EU-funded WORDINFO (How do words inform? Explaining the role of information theory in language comprehension) project investigated the issue, examining the relation between information content and comprehension difficulty. The researchers computed measures for the information content of words in natural texts such as novels. They then assessed comprehension difficulty using neural measures, relying on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG) data.

Project researchers concluded that language models account for brain activity during comprehension of natural texts. Additionally, measures based on linguistically informed structures do not predict EEG response any better than simpler models.

Two of the project's information concepts – measuring the unexpectedness of a word's occurrence and uncertainty about next words – account for brain activity in the fMRI study. However, the concepts show effects in different brain regions. Researchers interpreted the result to mean that high certainty leads to active prediction of the next word.

EEG data indicated that meaning relatedness and predictability affect the anticipation of words. Eye tracking data showed that readers fluent in a second language are affected by word information values in the same ways as native speakers.

Key findings support the hierarchical prediction framework theory, whereby the brain continually predicts the next words in a top-down way. Activations are graded, relative to probability of occurrence. An error signal propagates from the bottom up, which affects subsequent predictions.

The project's new methods open up new neuroimaging experimental possibilities. Furthermore, the methods can be applied to research into bilingualism and non-native processing, and also to psycholinguistics more in general.

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Life Sciences


Information theory, language, brain processing, text complexity, WORDINFO, comprehension
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