Music and language are hypothesized to engage the same neural resources, particularly at the level of syntax processing. Recent reports suggest that attention modulates the shared processing of music and language, but the time-course of the effects of attention on music and language syntax processing are yet unclear. In this EEG study we vary top-down attention to language and music, while manipulating the syntactic structure of simultaneously presented musical chord progressions and garden-path sentences in a modified rapid serial visual presentation paradigm. The Early Right Anterior Negativity (ERAN) was observed in response to both attended and unattended musical syntax violations. In contrast, an N400 was only observed in response to attended linguistic syntax violations, and a P3/P600 only in response to attended musical syntax violations. Results suggest that early processing of musical syntax, as indexed by the ERAN, is relatively automatic; however, top-down allocation of attention changes the processing of syntax in both music and language at later stages of cognitive processing.
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