Prof. Dr. Pia Knoeferle (Humboldt University of Berlin, DE)

(Predicting) the boundaries of context effects in language comprehension

June 6, 2019 | 5 pm

Much psycholinguistic research has focused on examining context effects related to linguistic and word knowledge and referential world-language relations. We know, for instance, that people robustly and rapidly establish reference to an object as it is mentioned and that actions (e.g., someone greeting someone else) rapidly modulate the comprehension of related sentences. Indeed, comprehenders rapidly integrate not only action depictions in the form of clipart, but also real-world actions, and actions from a video during the comprehension of concrete sentences. Incremental effects of depicted actions moreover appear robust across the lifespan and have emerged in 4-5-year old children, college-level adults, and older adults (60-90 years of age), albeit with some variability in the time course. From this research, it appears that language comprehension is context-sensitive, and that context effects are robust and pervasive. 

I will contrast such robust context effects with research that explores the boundaries of context effects on language comprehension. One strand of research considers non-referential world-language relations. For instance, (psycho)linguistic theory has postulated space-meaning relations between abstract concepts and concrete objects (e.g., relating the physical distance of two objects to semantic similarity between two abstract words). Another boundary test case has examined emotional facial expressions and their potential effects on language interpretation. Context effects in these latter test-cases appear – perhaps unsurprisingly - less robust than referential context effects. Reviewing psycho- and neurolinguistic evidence, I argue for constrained contextual variability. Variability in context effects is predicted by characteristics of the language user and world-language relations. But extant findings also suggest generalizability beyond such variation, thus imposing constraint on theoretical prediction of context effects via relative (not absolute) processing preferences.


For more information on Prof. Knoeferle's research please klick here.

Department Basic Psychological Research and Research Methods (Cognitive Psychology)
Faculty of Psychology (Lecture hall G, 2nd floor, left wing)