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Poster A155

Semantic Richness & Conflict Effects in Discourse-Level Referential Processing

Poster Session A - Saturday, April 13, 2024, 2:30 – 4:30 pm EDT, Sheraton Hall ABC

Nathan Caines1 (, Megan Boudewyn1; 1University of California Santa Cruz

Language comprehension involves rapidly creating a meaningful and accurate mental representation of discourse context. The Nref refers to a frontally distributed sustained negative-going event-related potential (ERP) waveform observed in response to referential ambiguity (Nieuwland & Van Berkum, 2006a). The difficulty of connecting pronouns to their antecedents (referential processing) depends on factors like the presence of ambiguity or ease of antecedent retrieval (Karimi et al., 2018). Here, we manipulated the semantic richness of 2 noun phrases (NPs) introduced in the first sentence of two-sentence written stories. An ambiguous pronoun in sentence 2 served as our target word. We hypothesized that referential ambiguity effects at the target word would depend on the activation level of a referent in memory. Specifically, we expected that the semantic richness of Sentence 1 NPs would serve as a cue biasing the interpretation of Sentence 2 target pronouns. We were particularly interested in examining whether semantically rich Sentence 1 NP2s would lead to the most processing difficulty at the Sentence 2 targets by creating a bias towards NP2 pronoun interpretation that is in conflict with the NP1 bias typically seen in English. Results (N=20) showed a significantly larger Nref amplitude for Sentence 2 targets following sentences with semantically rich NP2s than bare NPs (p=0.041). These results support the hypothesis that retrieval difficulty is increased when a candidate antecedent’s prominence conflicts with a representationally richer possible antecedent option.

Topic Area: LANGUAGE: Other


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April 13–16  |  2024