zum Inhalt springen

Influence of attention and perspective on the processing of German d-pronouns

Magdalena Repp & Petra B. Schumacher

University of Cologne, Germany

In this study, we investigate the real-time processing of German demonstrative (DPro) der/die and personal pronouns (PPro) er/sie in larger naturalistic discourse contexts. In two online experiments we recorded ERPs continuously from 64 Ag/AgCl electrodes as participants listened to audiobook excerpts of the novels Tschick [1] (N=40) and Auferstehung der Toten [2] (N=30). ERPs were time-locked to pronoun onset. Linear mixed-effect models were calculated with the factors pronoun and laterality and saggitality as continuous planar coordinates.

Both experiments reveal a biphasic N400-Late Positivity processing pattern for DPros relative to PPros, which we link to predictive processing and discourse updating respectively [3,4]. The N400 for DPros reflects prediction errors occurring due to referential form-function correspondences. The Late Positivity indicates the required updating of the discourse structure caused by the attentional reorientation that DPros provoke.

Additionally, the Tschick results reveal a pronounced positivity at anterior electrodes for DPros, relative to PPros. We link this effect to perspective taking since the use of DPros in this novel is mostly tied to the evaluation of differing perspective-holders [5,6]. The AdT results show an additional P300 effect for DPros relative to PPros, reflecting an early attentional orienting response triggered by the unpredicted DPro in combination with the high number of competing referents and the loquacious narration style.

Using narrative discourses, we replicated a biphasic processing pattern for DPros caused by violations of the anticipated referential form. Further, DPros' attentional and perspectival orienting were shown to be critical factors in naturalistic contexts.

Figure 1: ERP of the Tschick experiment. Mean amplitude over time by condition and ROI
Figure 2: ERP of the Auferstehung der Toten experiment. Mean amplitude over time by condition and ROI
  • [1] W. Herrndorf, Tschick, Rowohlt, Reinbek Bei Hamburg, 2010.
  • [2] W. Haas, Auferstehung Der Toten, Rowohlt, Reinbek Bei Hamburg, 1996.
  • [3] P. B. Schumacher, J. Backhaus, M. Dangl, Frontiers in Psychology 2015, 6, 14.
  • [4] I. Bornkessel-Schlesewsky, M. Schlesewsky, Front. Psychol. 2019, 10, 1.
  • [5] J. A. Harris, C. Potts, Linguistics and Philosophy 2009, 36, 523.
  • [6] M. A. Sabbagh, M. Taylor, PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE 2000, 11, 6.