Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Integrating Words That Refer to Typical Sequences of Events

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Integrating Words That Refer to Typical Sequences of Events

Article excerpt

The organisation and processing of event concepts in semantic memory is an important issue in language processing and memory research. The present study tested whether pairs of words denoting events that can plausibly occur in sequence (marinate-grill) generate expectancies for a target that denotes a subsequently occurring event (chew). In Experiment 1, two events that tend to occur sequentially primed the third. In Experiment 2, the individual primes (i.e., marinate and grill separately) did not prime their related event targets. Experiments 1 and 2 used a lexical-decision task on the target. Therefore, information from both primes must be integrated to sufficiently activate knowledge of the subsequently occurring target. This is the first study to demonstrate priming among words denoting sequentially occurring events. In Experiment 3, a relatedness decision task, processing of these event triplets was facilitated when the first two event words were presented in a temporally correct order compared with when their order was reversed. These findings are not predicted by spreading activation theory and cannot be simulated by corpus-based models that do not include order-sensitive measures. We interpret the results as evidence for the role of situation models and the use of world knowledge during online language comprehension, even in the absence of sentential contexts.

Keywords: event sequences, semantic memory, situation models

Fluid language comprehension depends on the rapid activation of meaning for successively perceived words, which, in turn, may drive implicit expectancy generation for upcoming words and concepts (DeLong, Urbach, & Kutas, 2005). Priming and sentence comprehension experiments have demonstrated the salience and use of multiple types of semantic relationships. In particular, researchers have investigated event knowledge as a basis for generating expectancies during language comprehension (Metusalem et al., 2011).

In terms of sentence processing, context can drive expectations for words later in the same sentence, as in, The day was breezy so the boy went outside to fly a ____ (DeLong et al., 2005), or in subsequent sentences (Federmeier & Kutas, 1999). Because sentences evoke detailed scenarios or events (Metusalem et al., 201 1), it may not be surprising that, over their course, a single word can become highly anticipated, such as a suitable item that a typical boy might fly in the wind (kite). Furthermore, the processing of single words, outside of a sentential context, can (automatically) generate expectancies for related concepts (de Groot, 1984). Priming studies examining event-based relations have considered how relations among components within a single event drive priming (Moss, Ostrin, Tyler, & Marslen-Wilson, 1995). However, the importance of event knowledge in semantic memory would be bolstered significantly by showing that people encode relations among multiple events and that such relations are activated rapidly during language comprehension.

The goal of the present study is to test whether sequentially presented words denoting a plausible sequence of events (marinate-grill) activate a word (or concept) referring to a plausible subsequent event (chew). Furthermore, we test whether people's judgments regarding whether three events are related are influenced by the order in which the events are presented (marinate-grill-chew vs. grill-marinate-chew). Thus, this is the first study to investigate the rapid use of knowledge of real-world event sequences during online comprehension of individual words.

Event Knowledge

A number of studies have demonstrated rapid activation of event-based semantic relations using a semantic priming paradigm. For example, Moss et al. (1995) obtained priming for instrument (knife-bread) and script relations (restaurant-wine). McRae, Hare, Elman, and Ferretti (2005) found priming from nouns denoting components of events to verbs denoting those events (guitarstrummed, waiter-serving). …

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