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Novel words can be recalled immediately and after little exposure, but require a post-learning consolidation period to show word-like behaviour such as lexical competition. This pattern is thought to reflect a qualitative shift from episodic to lexical representations. However, several studies have reported immediate effects of meaningful novel words on semantic processing, suggesting that integration of novel word meanings may not require consolidation. The current study synthesises and extends these findings by showing a dissociation between lexical and semantic effects on the electrophysiological (N400, LPC) response to novel words. The difference in N400 amplitude between novel and existing words (a lexical effect) decreased significantly after a 24-h consolidation period, providing novel support for the hypothesis that offline consolidation aids lexicalisation. In contrast, novel words preceded by semantically related primes elicited a more positive LPC response (a semantic-priming effect) both before and after consolidation, indicating that certain semantic effects can be observed even when words have not been fully lexicalised. We propose that novel meanings immediately start to contribute to semantic processing, but that the underlying neural processes may shift from strategic to more automatic with consolidation.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





33 - 41


EEG, LPC, Memory consolidation, N400, Semantic priming, Word learning, Adolescent, Adult, Analysis of Variance, Brain Mapping, Choice Behavior, Electroencephalography, Evoked Potentials, Female, Humans, Male, Memory, Photic Stimulation, Reaction Time, Semantics, Verbal Learning, Vocabulary, Young Adult