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.

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