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Semantic relationship shared between words: influence on associative recognition supported by event-related potentials

Lyu, Yuana,*; Wang, Yujuanb,*; Mao, Xinruib; Li, Xianb; Guo, Chunyanb,c

doi: 10.1097/WNR.0000000000000910
Clinical Neuroscience

A number of recent studies have shown that familiarity can contribute to associative recognition, specifically when the to-be-paired items are perceived as a single unit; however, whether semantic relationship between two items can help them form a unitization is still heatedly debated, with largely inconsistent results. The present study uses event-related potentials (ERPs) to investigate whether semantic relation can serve as a unitization approach by manipulating levels of unitization (LOU). Results revealed that semantic-related conditions were supported by both familiarity and recollection, whereas unrelated pairs solely by recollection, indicating that semantic relation can encourage unitization. On a larger frame, though, we proposed that the incompatible results among different groups is because of the position of semantic relation on the LOU continuum – just around the threshold to form familiarity, thus unstable enough to produce FN400 in every experiment setting with any particular materials. We further propose that such a threshold position is because of semantic relations helping unitization by having two items share an overlapped representation, which is weaker than other high LOU but beyond-the-threshold relations (e.g. synonyms) that encourage unitization in a stronger manner.

aCollege of Elementary Education

bBeijing Key Laboratory of Learning and Cognition, Department of Psychology

cDepartment of Psychology, Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Imaging Technology, Capital Normal University, Beijing, People’s Republic of China

* Yuan Lyu and Yujuan Wang contributed equally to the writing of this article.

Correspondence to Chunyan Guo, PhD, No. 105, North Road of Western 3rd-Ring, Beijing 100048, People’s Republic of China Tel/fax: +86 010 6890 2228; e-mail:

Received August 16, 2017

Accepted September 7, 2017

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