School of Psychology
Debriefing Sheet
Project Title: EEG and Word Processing
Researcher: Elisa Pye
Thank you for participating in this study on word reading. The purpose of this leaflet
is to summarise this experiment and to tell you a little more about the cognitive
research in which I am interested.
This project aimed to investigate the contribution of semantic memory to the process
of single word reading. Semantic memory is a form of memory that stores general
knowledge about everyday word and objects. For example: knowledge that a dog is a
four-legged domesticated animal (NOT memories about a specific dog you owned or
the memory of seeing a woman walking a dog this morning). This research is
concerned with how this general knowledge about the world aids in the translation of
printed letters, which make-up words, to the correct pronunciation of that word. In
short, how do we form the correct pronunciation of words and is semantic memory
In this experiment, you were asked to read words silently to yourself and press a
button as you did so. This is a covert naming task, as, though you were naming the
item, you were not doing this aloud. While you were doing this we recorded the
electrical signals at your scalp that were produced in your brain in response to the
words on the screen. It was important that you not say the words aloud as the muscle
activity would have disrupted the recording.
The words you read were manipulated in terms of difficulty; although it is very
unlikely you would be aware of this. You were given 2 levels of word difficulty. For
example: harder words such as “sieve” and easier words such as “goat”.
We would expect, based on the literature, for the different word types to illicit
different reaction times. We will, therefore, be using your button press reaction times
as a way to check that you were reading the word to yourself, as the amount of time it
took you to press the button should differ between the two word difficulty types.
In addition to word difficulty, we also manipulated the words on a semantic variable.
For example, in one group of words the semantic variable we manipulated was
imagability, which is the ability of a word to garner a fairly specific image from any
of the senses, not just a mental picture.
There were 4 word types in total: harder words that are high in the semantic variable,
harder words that are low in the semantic variable, easier words that are high in the
semantic variable, and easier words that are low in the semantic variable.
The current literature debates whether word reading (when a word is translated in the
brain from print to sound) needs semantic information for the brain to determine the
correct pronunciation of a word, and this is what I am investigating.
If there are differences in the EEG recording (on an averaged group level) within
word difficulty level, but between the semantic variable levels (in other words,
comparing harder words that are high in imagability and easier words that are low in
imagability), I can assume that this occurred because the brain is using semantics to
help read a word correctly. Because my words are matched very closely on other
variables, I can infer that any differences are occurring because of semantic
processing in word reading.
For example, I might see that the harder words that are high in a semantic variable
produce a different pattern of brain response than harder words that are low in a
semantic variable. Perhaps the easy words will not show a difference in brain
response pattern between the high and low semantic conditions because these words
are efficiently processed. Perhaps they are read so efficiently that the brain does not
receive the help from semantic memory in time to help with the correct pronunciation.
From the results, I will be able to draw some conclusions about the processes that are
used when words read. In particular, I should be able to draw some inferences about
whether semantic memory is involved in this process. This work will help contribute
to theoretical models of word reading.
Once again, thank you for participating, and would like to reassure you that all the
data is anonymous. I hope that you enjoyed taking part in the experiment. Do contact
me if you want to find out anything else.
Thanks again,
Elisa Pye
PhD candidate, Psychology
Contact for further information:
If you have any questions please contact Elisa Pye on 020 8223 4595 or email me at