Comprehension of coreferential and new proper names in discourse: an event-related potentials study

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The present event-related potentials study investigated how discourse coherence of repeated and new proper names influences discourse comprehension. In our study, we presented participants with mini stories in Dutch where characteristics of repeated (given) and not previously mentioned (new) proper names were either coherent with the preceding context or contradicted it. We found that repeated names elicited attenuated N400 and LPC components compared to new referents, which we interpret in terms of the psycholinguistic model of anaphora comprehension as referent activation (N400) and the subsequent integration into discourse model (LPC). Further, we also found that names without a specific entity to refer back to resulted in a sustained frontal negativity, suggesting that referential dependency formation is challenging for referents without a particular entity to be linked to. However, we did not find an effect of discourse coherence on comprehension of repeated and new proper names. In sum, our results demonstrate that given or new referents have a different impact on discourse comprehension and strengthen the view that Nref indexes challenges in referential interpretation.
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