Catching a Snitch vs. catching a Bludger: Variability in world knowledge influences real-time access to word meaning
Melissa Troyer1, Marta Kutas1; 1University of California, San Diego
Not only the contents but the structure of semantic memory influence the retrieval of word meaning during sentence comprehension. For example, properties of words that are inappropriate continuations of a sentence, but are related to the sentence and/or appropriate continuation, seem to be pre-activated during sentence comprehension (e.g., Federmeier & Kutas, 1999; Laszlo & Federmeier, 2009; Metusalem et al., 2012; Amsel et al., 2015). From one individual to the next, the contents and presumably functional organization of semantic memory vary according to their respective knowledge; yet little work has systematically tested the assumption that individual-level knowledge is directly responsible for effects of semantic memory on sentence comprehension. Here, we asked individuals more or less knowledgeable about the narrative world of Harry Potter (HP) to read sentences about HP that ended in one of the following: the best completion; an inconsistent word related to the sentence context and/or best completion; or an inconsistent, unrelated word. For example: ‘In Quidditch, games are usually won in one way. This is when the seeker catches the SNITCH (best completion) / BLUDGER (related-inconsistent) / DRAGON (unrelated-inconsistent).’ At the critical word, both the consistency effect (unrelated-inconsistent minus best completion) and the related anomaly effect (unrelated-inconsistent minus related-inconsistent) were correlated with individual knowledge, with greater effects for more knowledgeable individuals. These findings illustrate the immediate influence that (in this case fictional) world knowledge, gleaned from experience, exerts on the use and organization of information during real-time sentence processing.
Topic Area: LANGUAGE: Semantic