Unconstrained multivariate EEG decoding can help detect lexical-semantic processing in individual children

Selene Petit*, Nicholas A. Badcock, Tijl Grootswagers, Alexandra Woolgar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
8 Downloads (Pure)


In conditions such as minimally-verbal autism, standard assessments of language comprehension are often unreliable. Given the known heterogeneity within the autistic population, it is crucial to design tests of semantic comprehension that are sensitive in individuals. Recent efforts to develop neural signals of language comprehension have focused on the N400, a robust marker of lexical-semantic violation at the group level. However, homogeneity of response in individual neurotypical children has not been established. Here, we presented 20 neurotypical children with congruent and incongruent visual animations and spoken sentences while measuring their neural response using electroencephalography (EEG). Despite robust group-level responses, we found high inter-individual variability in response to lexico-semantic anomalies. To overcome this, we analysed our data using temporally and spatially unconstrained multivariate pattern analyses (MVPA), supplemented by descriptive analyses to examine the timecourse, topography, and strength of the effect. Our results show that neurotypical children exhibit heterogenous responses to lexical-semantic violation, implying that any application to heterogenous disorders such as autism spectrum disorder will require individual-subject analyses that are robust to variation in topology and timecourse of neural responses.

Original languageEnglish
Article number10849
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jul 2020

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2020. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


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