The effect of a prospected reward on semantic processing: an N400 EEG study

Sanne H. G. van der Ven*, Sven A. C. van Touw, Anne H. van Hoogmoed, Eva M. Janssen, Paul P. M. Leseman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Promised rewards are often used in education to stimulate learning behaviour. The present study tested whether a reward prospect affects semantic processing and recall of learned materials. Thirty-nine females participated in an electroencephalogram (EEG) task measuring semantic processing using the N400 effect. After that, they completed a cued recall test of the task materials. Before the EEG task, half of the participants (n = 20) were told that financial compensation would increase with each correct answer (reward prospect condition). The other half (n = 19) were told that financial compensation was fixed (control condition). Participants in the reward prospect condition showed an N400 effect that was more spread over the (left) frontal areas, and showed better recall than participants in the control condition. An achievement-related reward prospect alters semantic processing and improves retention of learned material. Whether improved retention benefits learning in longer term needs further study.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)257-265
JournalZeitschrift für Psychologie
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • N400 cloze effect
  • ERP
  • reward
  • learning
  • semantic processing

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