It is often assumed that word reading proceeds automatically. Here, we tested this assumption by recording event-related potentials during a psychological refractory period (PRP) paradigm, requiring lexical decisions about written words. Specifically, we selected words differing in their orthographic neighborhood size–the number of words that can be obtained from a target by exchanging a single letter–and investigated how influences of this variable depend on the availability of central attention. As expected, when attentional resources for lexical decisions were unconstrained, words with many orthographic neighbors elicited larger N400 amplitudes than those with few neighbors. However, under conditions of high temporal overlap with a high priority primary task, the N400 effect was not statistically different from zero. This finding indicates strong attentional influences on processes sensitive to orthographic neighbors during word reading, providing novel evidence against the full automaticity of processes involved in word reading. Furthermore, in conjunction with the observation of an underadditive interaction between stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA) and orthographic neighborhood size in lexical decision performance, commonly taken to indicate automaticity, our results raise issues concerning the standard logic of cognitive slack in the PRP paradigm.