Word frequency effect in written production: Evidence from ERPs and neural oscillations

Psychophysiology. 2021 May;58(5):e13775. doi: 10.1111/psyp.13775. Epub 2021 Feb 1.


It has been widely documented that word frequency (WF) modulates language processing in various input and output modalities. WF effect has also been reported in the domain of written production; however, how WF affects written production is a controversial issue. The present study attempts to investigate the time course of and neural oscillation underlying the WF effect in handwritten production. Participants were asked to handwrite pictures names of high versus low WF, while concurrently recording EEG. EEG trials were extracted time-locked to picture onsets and then submitted to event-related potential analysis and time-frequency analysis. WF affected ERPs in the time windows of around 98-160 and 282-360 ms after picture onsets. More importantly, WF modulated the evoked and induced theta-band (4-8 Hz) neural oscillations in the time window of around 36-240 and 244-472 ms, respectively. Considering the time course of language production and the role of theta-band oscillation in long-term memory retrieval, we suggest that the two stages of the WF effect, respectively, reflect conceptual preparation and retrieval of orthographic word-forms in written production.

Keywords: event-related potentials; handwritten production; lexical access; theta-band oscillation; word frequency.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Waves
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials*
  • Female
  • Handwriting*
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Male
  • Recognition, Psychology*
  • Young Adult