Louisa Kulke, Mareike Bayer, Anna-Maria Grimm and Annekathrin Schacht

Differential effects of learned associations with words and pseudowords on event-related brain potentials.


Associated stimulus valence affects  neural responses  at an early processing stage. However, in the field of written language processing, it is unclear whether semantics of a word or low-level visual features affect early neural processing advantages. The current study aimed to investigate the role of semantic content on reward and loss associations. Participants completed a learning session to associate either words (Experiment 1, N = 24) or pseudowords (Experiment 2, N = 24) with different monetary outcomes (gain-associated, neutral or loss-associated). Gain-associated stimuli were learned fastest. Behavioural and neural response changes based on the associated outcome were further investigated in separate test sessions. Responses were faster towards gain- and loss-associated than neutral stimuli if they were words, but not pseudowords. Early P1 effects of associated outcome occurred for both pseudowords and words. Specifically, loss-association resulted in increased P1 amplitudes to pseudowords, compared to decreased amplitudes to words. Although visual features are likely to explain P1 effects for pseudowords, the inversed effect for words suggests that semantic content affects associative learning, potentially leading to stronger associations.