Old songs can be as fresh as new: An ERP study on lyrics processing

Pei Ju Chien, Shiao hui Chan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Song familiarity has been systematically found to have a strong effect on music cognition, especially in aspects of emotion and memory; however, whether it would also influence the semantic processing of song lyrics is unclear. To address this, we asked subjects to listen to familiar and unfamiliar pop song excerpts, which were followed by visual target words semantically related or unrelated to the lyrics-final word, and to judge the concreteness of the targets. The ERP results revealed that larger N400 was elicited by unrelated visual targets compared with related ones, indicating that the subjects processed the meaning of the preceding lyrics even though that was not part of the required task. More importantly, the N400 relatedness effect did not vary with subjects' familiarity with the songs, suggesting that the subjects kept processing the meaning of the lyrics even though they had listened to the songs multiple times. The fact that repetition-the essential characteristic of familiar songs-did not diminish the meaning processing of lyrics suggests that lyrics and speech may differ at a higher communicative level.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-67
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neurolinguistics
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Aug 1


  • Familiarity
  • Mandarin
  • N400
  • Semantic processing
  • Song lyrics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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