Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Distractor Strength and Selective Attention in Picture-Naming Performance

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Distractor Strength and Selective Attention in Picture-Naming Performance

Article excerpt

Abstract Whereas it has long been assumed that competition plays a role in lexical selection in word production (e.g., Levelt, Roelofs, & Meyer, 1999), recently Finkbeiner and Caramazza (2006) argued against the competition assumption on the basis of their observation that visible distractors yield semantic interference in picture naming, whereas masked distractors yield semantic facilitation. We examined an alternative account of these findings that preserves the competition assumption. According to this account, the interference and facilitation effects of distractor words reflect whether or not distractors are strong enough to exceed a threshold for entering the competition process. We report two experiments in which distractor strength was manipulated by means of coactivation and visibility. Naming performance was assessed in terms of mean response time (RT) and RT distributions. In Experiment 1, with low coactivation, semantic facilitation was obtained from clearly visible distractors, whereas poorly visible distractors yielded no semantic effect. In Experiment 2, with high coactivation, semantic interference was obtained from both clearly and poorly visible distractors. These findings support the competition threshold account of the polarity of semantic effects in naming.

Keywords Competition . Lexical selection . Masking . Picture naming . Selective attention

Humans have an amazing capability of quickly selectingwords they want to produce out of an immense mental dictionary. A debated topic in the literature concerns how we do this. In other words, what are the mechanisms subserving lexical selection? For a long time, competition was accepted as a mechanism involved in this selection (Levelt, Roelofs, & Meyer, 1999; Roelofs, 1992; Starreveld & La Heij, 1996). More recently, however, Finkbeiner and Caramazza (2006) reported findings challenging this view, and they presented an account of lexical selection without competition. In this article, we first briefly describe the two opposing accounts. Next, we give a brief, critical summary of the evidence in favor of response exclusion, and we argue that the evidence is, in fact, compatible with the competition view. We then propose an alternative account of the findings of Finkbeiner and Caramazza (2006) that preserves the competition assumption and present the results of two new experiments supporting this alternative account of the findings.

Over the years, researchers have found effects from context words on picture-naming latencies, using the picture-word interference (PWI) paradigm. In this paradigm, participants have to name a picture (e.g., the picture of a cat) while trying to ignore a distractor word either superimposed onto the picture (Glaser & Düngelhoff, 1984; Rosinski, 1977) or presented auditorily (Schriefers, Meyer, & Levelt, 1990). Awellknown context effect is semantic interference, manifested in longer response times (RTs) for pictures in the context of a category-coordinate (related) distractor word (e.g., dog), relative to a semantically unrelated distractor (e.g., pen). This semantic interference effect has typically been interpreted as reflecting the competition between the lexical representations of the target picture name and the distractor (Levelt et al., 1999; Roelofs, 1992). According to this account, semantically related words are linked via a conceptual network. When a conceptual representation is activated, it spreads activation to semantically related words via this network, and all the activated words compete for selection. The stronger this competition becomes, the longer it takes to select the word that is eventually produced. This delay in selection is what underlies the semantic interference effect. It should be noted, however, that the PWI paradigm taps not only into word selection, but also into selective attention. These attention mechanisms allow the participants to respond to the target picture, rather than to the distractor word. …

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