Publication Date

Summer 2015

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Lance Hahn (Director), Andrew Mienaltowski, Matthew Shake, and Brandy Tiernan

Degree Program

Department of Psychological Sciences

Degree Type

Master of Science


Language is an essential component of human behavior. It is ubiquitous, but more importantly, it is malleable and it is constantly changing. Part of the dynamic nature of informal communication is the introduction and adoption of new linguistic elements. Online communication provides a window into this informal public discourse; therefore, it may be useful for testing hypotheses about the processes underlying the acquisition and use of new words. The comprehension of informal language may lead to an understanding of how these new informal words are integrated into our mental lexicon. The current study was an electroencephalographic (EEG) investigation of the brain processes that underlie informal language. We recorded event-related potentials while participants engaged in a lexical decision task. For this experiment, participants made judgments about Twitter targets primed with semantically related or unrelated words. Classic psycholinguistic studies have shown very specific event-related potentials (ERPs) for semantic processing. Most notably, the N400 event-related potential component is an index of lexical expectancy and semantic relatedness. In contrast to the literature, we did not find classic N400 priming effects. However, our results revealed marked differences between informal and traditional targets. Our results suggest that informal language is more difficult to process than traditional language.


Cognition and Perception | Experimental Analysis of Behavior | Psychology