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Title:What does "it" mean anyway? Examining the time course of semantic activation in reference resolution
Author(s):Smith, Cybelle M
Advisor(s):Federmeier, Kara D
Contributor(s):Fisher, Cynthia L; Dell, Gary S
Department / Program:Psychology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Semantic Memory
Abstract:Pronouns (e.g. ‘it’) are commonly studied in research on anaphoric reference, because they appear to carry out the linguistic function of referring back to an entity, while providing little or no new information about the referent. However, differing viewpoints have emerged in the psycholinguistic literature on what cognitive processes are engaged when reading or hearing a pronoun. One view is that encountering a pronoun leads the comprehender to reactivate the semantics of its antecedent. We examined this hypothesis by manipulating the concreteness of a noun antecedent and assessing whether an Event Related Potential (ERP) concreteness effect was elicited at a downstream pronoun. We observed a robust concreteness effect at the noun, but no evidence of a concreteness effect at the pronoun. In a secondary analysis, we examined whether N400 semantic priming from the antecedent would increase on content words shortly following the pronoun, relative to those preceding it. Again, although we observed robust semantic priming from the noun antecedent at positions following it, we did not observe an increase in the size of this effect following the pronoun. Taken together with the broader literature, our data suggest that pronouns do not induce the activation of (much) new semantic information in long-term memory, perhaps instead triggering an attentional shift towards their antecedents’ active semantic representations within working memory. This, in turn, suggests that the process of linking an anaphor to its antecedent is attentionally mediated and does not entail long-term memory access, in contrast with ACT-R inspired models (Lewis & Vasishth, 2005).
Issue Date:2016-12-09
Rights Information:Copyright 2016 Cybelle Smith
Date Available in IDEALS:2017-03-01
Date Deposited:2016-12

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