Event-related potential and reaction time evidence for inhibition between alternative meanings of ambiguous words
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SourceBrain and Language, 86, 2, (2003), pp. 167-192
Article / Letter to editor
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SW OZ DCC CO
SW OZ NICI CO
Brain and Language
We investigated the effects of two primes that converged onto the same semantic target representation (e.g., LION-STRIPES-TIGER) or diverged onto different semantic target representations (e.g., KIDNEY-PIANO-ORGAN). Balota and Paul (1996) showed that the RT effects of two related primes in naming and lexical decision are additive, both for unambiguous and ambiguous words. Only in a relatedness judgment task ambiguous words showed underadditivity, whereas unambiguous words again showed additivity. This underadditivity was interpreted to reflect inhibition of alternative meanings of ambiguous words. In this article we tested whether inhibition occurs for N400, assumed to index postlexical integration. In lexical decision, we found additive N400 and RT effects for unambiguous and for ambiguous words. In a relatedness judgment task we observed differences between measures: (1) for unambiguous words overadditivity for N400 vs. additivity for RT; (2) although, for ambiguous words underadditivity occurred for N400 and RT, the effects were different. For RT, the alternative meaning was only less available, whereas for N400 the alternative meaning appeared completely unavailable. Our results have implications for our understanding of inhibitory processes in the processing of ambiguous words and for the functional significance of N400.
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