Conference Presentation: Experimental Psychology Society, January 2021

Reading rich semantic sentences to improve disambiguation skills in adults

César Gutiérrez Silva, Joanne Taylor, Lena Blott & Jennifer Rodd

University College London

In English most words have multiple meanings and research shows that single encounters with one meaning can increase subsequent usage. We evaluated how more naturalistic exposure including both dominant and subordinate ambiguous word meanings influences subsequent processing. 60 native English speakers were recruited online. They read and answered questions about sentences from the British National Corpus: two sentences for 14 ambiguous words, one including the dominant and one the subordinate meaning, and two sentences for 14 unambiguous words. In a subsequent semantic relatedness task, participants evaluated if probe words were related in meaning to target words. Probes included trained and untrained items, and ambiguous word probes either related to the dominant or subordinate meaning of targets. Judgements were faster and more accurate to target words that were related to probe word subordinate meanings for trained relative to untrained items. Training did not influence processing of dominant meanings of ambiguous words or unambiguous words. This study supports the idea that lexical-semantic representations of ambiguous words are highly flexible. Even when coupled with exposure to the dominant meaning, subordinate word meaning processing can be improved. Future work will explore the durabilityof this effect and whether it transfers between spoken and written language.

See here for a link to the programme.

Recruiting: 2yr Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Research Fellow position funded by our @ESRC grant “Individual Differences in Comprehension across the Lifespan” working with @JenniRodd @LenaMBlott @ReadOxford @DrMattDavis

Position funded for 2 years with a start date or 1st July 2021, but there is some flexibility in this. Ideally we would like somebody in post by 1 October 2021.

The deadline for applications is April 25th. Interviews will likely take place in the week commencing 4th May (via zoom).

See here for more info

New Publication! The relationship between sentence comprehension and lexical-semantic retuning

This work, led by Becky Gilbert explores the learning mechanisms by which lexical-semantic knowledge about the relatively likelihoods of the alternative meanings of ambiguous words is updated. Our findings suggest that this form of lexical-semantic retuning is driven by participants’ final interpretation of the word meanings during the prime encounter, regardless of initial meaning activation or misinterpretation.

See here for a fab twitter thread that summarises the key message.

Gilbert, R.A., Davis, M.H., Gaskell, M.G., Rodd, J.M. (2021) The relationship between sentence comprehension and lexical-semantic retuning. Journal of Memory and Language 116, 104188DOI:

New Publication! Recovery from misinterpretations during online sentence processing

This work, led by Lena Blott uses an eye-tracking method to explore how readers recover after they misinterpret sentences that contain ambiguous words.

Blott, L.M., Rodd, J.M., Ferreira, F., Warren, J.E. (2020). Recovery from misinterpretations during online sentence processing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. Advance online publication. DOI:

New Publication. Settling into Semantic Space: An ambiguity-focused account of word-meaning access

This review paper brings together much of the research conducted in the lab over the last 20 years. It presents a new account of word-meaning access that places semantic disambiguation at its core and integrates evidence from a wide variety of experimental approaches to explain this key aspect of language comprehension.

Rodd, J.M. (2020). Settling into semantic space: An ambiguity-focused account of word-meaning access. Perspectives on Psychological Science 15 (2), 411-427. DOI:

New publication: The Neural Time Course of Semantic Ambiguity Resolution in Speech Comprehension

This work led by Lucy MacGregor (MRC CBU, Cambridge) used combined magnetoencephalography (MEG) and Electroencephalography (EEG) to measure neural responses associated spoken sentences that contained ambiguous words.

MacGregor, L.J., Rodd, J.M., Gilbert, R.A., Hauk,O., Sohoglu, E., Davis, M.H. (2020). The neural time course of semantic ambiguity resolution in speech comprehension. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 32 (3), 403-425. DOI:

Jenni Rodd appointed Senior Affiliated Scientist at the MRC CBU, Cambridge

Jenni has been a frequent visitor and collaborator at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge (@mrccbu) since she completed her PhD there many years ago!

She currently has an ESRC grant working with CBU programe leaders Matt Davis (@DrMattDavis) and Rogier Kievit (@rogierK)

In recognition of this long-standing and productive relationship she has been appointed a Senior Affiliated Scientist.