Research Reports & Plain-language Abstracts

Part of the training initiative mandate set out by Words in the World is to provide knowledge translation and knowledge mobilization opportunities for our trainees. The following research reports and plain-language abstracts have been written by student trainees at the Centre for Advanced Research in Experimental and Applied Linguistics (ARiEAL), at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, as part of this mandate. As part of this training project, they have taken articles written by WOW collaborators and created plain-language abstracts targeted at non-experts, including the general public and researchers from other fields.

Article Abstracts

Novel metaphor comprehension: Semantic neighbourhood density interacts with concreteness

Metaphors are unrelated concepts combined together to create meaning (ex. some lawyers are sharks). When understanding metaphors, we have to ignore unrelated information about the concepts (ex. sharks are blue), and pay attention to related information (ex. sharks are ruthless). Researchers from the University of Windsor created new metaphors and asked participants to rate how sensible each metaphor is. Metaphors that contained concepts that had many related ideas (ex. sharks are blue, sharks are ruthless, sharks are in the ocean) were rated as less sensible than metaphors that contained concepts that had fewer related ideas.

Citation: Al-Azary, H. (T) & Buchanan, L. (2017). Novel metaphor comprehension: Semantic neighbourhood density interacts with concreteness. Memory and Cognition, 45, 296-307. doi: 10.3758/s13421-016-0650-7

Evidence for a global oculomotor program in reading

Recent studies suggested the existence of a global program that underlies eye-movements and reading. This global program is particularly evident when human eyes engage in reading the first words of a text. In fact, as the reader moves over the very first words, his/her eyes not only tend to skip greater distances, but they also fixate on words longer. The present study investigates whether this pattern exists for any visual information or is restricted to only linguistic objects. Additionally, it explores whether this global pattern is mainly reflected in how much text is visually skipped (saccade amplitudes) or in the length of gazes (fixation durations).

Citation: Al-Zanoon, N. (T), Dambacher, M., and Kuperman, V. (2017). Evidence for a global oculomotor program in reading. Psychological Research, 81(4), 863-877.

Acquiring Complex Focus-Marking: Finnish 4- to 5-Year-Olds Use Prosody and Word Order in Interaction

In communication, information is not just conveyed by words, but also by the rhythmic intonation of the production. A new study shows that language production in young children learning either Finnish or German was influenced by the way those languages convey rhythmic information. Finnish children display more adult-like productions indicating that there are language-specific characteristics shaping language acquisition.

Read the Research Sketch

Citation: Arnhold, A. (C), Chen, A., & Järvikivi, J. (2016). Acquiring complex focus marking: Finnish four- to five-year-olds use prosody and word order in interaction. Frontiers in Psychology/Language Sciences, 7:1886. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01886

Semantic Neighborhood Effects for Abstract versus Concrete Words

Have you struggled trying to recognize a word? Ashley Danguecan and Lori Buchanan conducted a series experiments to examine how quickly a word would be recognized. They found that words which are physically represented, like tablecloth, are recognized faster, compared to those not representable, like cohesion. In addition to that, the number of related words would increases the competition: more related words leads to more difficult recognition. 

Citation: Danguecan, A.N., (T) & Buchanan, L. (2016). Semantic neighborhood effects for abstract versus concrete words. Frontiers in Psychology, 7: 1034.

The Neuronal Correlates of Indeterminate Sentence Comprehension: an fMRI Study

Indeterminate sentences allow an infinite number of interpretations. For example, in “Mary began the book,” it is not explicitly stated what Mary started doing with the book, whether she is reading or writing it. Previous research has showed evidence for a linguistic process called ‘semantic coercion,’ which assumes that semantic information represented within the noun “book” contributes content to the sentence (e.g., that books are typically read). So, in the above example, most people will interpret the sentence as meaning “Mary began reading the book.” According to coercion theory, the resolution of indeterminacy is driven by linguistic-internal mechanisms. There is another theory, pragmatic-inferential theory, which assumes that pragmatic inferences are triggered upon hearing a sentence that leaves informational “gaps” in its linguistic form. Employing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers found that indeterminate sentences activate parts of the brain bilaterally more than determinate sentences (e.g., “Mary began writing the book”), which they take as evidence of the deployment of pragmatic-inferential processes. This study provides evidence for pragmatic-inferential theory.

Citation: de Almeida, R.G., Riven, L., Manouilidou, C., Lungu, O., Dwivedi, V.D., Jarema, G., & Gillon, B. (2016). The Neuronal Correlates of Indeterminate Sentence Comprehension: An fMRI Study. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 10:614. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2016.00614

(1) Social Cues Modulate Cognitive Status of Discourse Referents

Everyday we use social cues to communicate – we point, we nod, we gaze at things that we want, whether it be our neighbour’s car or a chocolate bar when we are starving.  That is why during conversation, it does not come as a surprise that the eye gaze of the speaker communicates salient information and influences the listener’s interpretation. If you were to hear the following sentence: “The dolphin kisses the goldfish. Now, he wants to go swimming,” it would be difficult to determine whether the pronoun “he” was referring to the goldfish or the dolphin. However, a recent study discovered that if the narrator gazes at one of those characters while speaking, the listener would be more likely to interpret that the speaker was referring to that particular character. So although it might be important to be careful what you wish for, while you’re speaking, be careful what you look at!

Citation: Hawthorne, K., Arnhold, A.(C), Sullivan, E.(T), & Järvikivi, J. Social cues modulate cognitive status of discourse referents. The Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (COGSCI2016). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, August 10-13, 2016.

(2) Social cues modulate cognitive status of discourse referents

Everyday we are influenced by the people around us, but who would’ve thought that social cues could actually change the way we read? A recent study has shown that someone else’s eye-gaze can influence our interpretations of ambiguous pronouns in a sentence. The experiment showed that when an on-screen narrator directed their gaze towards a certain “character” from a sentence, people were more likely to interpret a later ambiguous pronoun as referring to the object the narrator had previously looked at. This suggests that social cues, such as eye gaze, can overcome strong previous cognitive bias.’

Citation: Hawthorne, K., Arnhold, A.(C), Sullivan, E.(T), & Järvikivi, J. (2016). Social cues modulate cognitive status of discourse referents. In, Papafragou, A., Grodner, D., Mirman, D., & Trueswell, J.C. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 38th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society, pp. 562-567.

Finding word boundaries in Indian English-accented speech

Reading this paragraph, you can easily tell where a new word begins and ends. But how do you make this distinction when listening to someone speak? In this paper, researchers Hawthorne, Järvikivi and Tucker take a look at how speakers of Canadian English perceive and segment accented English. They looked at pitch and stress cues in Indian Accented English, and found that listeners used techniques from their native Canadian English to segment the words they heard.

Read the Research Sketch!

Citation: Hawthorne, K., Järvikivi, J., & Tucker, B. V. (C) (2017). Finding Word Boundaries in Indian English-Accented Speech. Journal of Phonetics, 66, 145-160.

Reliability of the sliding scale for collecting affective responses to words

When using a new tool to do an action (for example, using a bow to shoot an arrow), we must first know whether that tool is both accurate (can the arrow hit the bullseye) and reliable (does the arrow always hit the target, or does it completely miss half of the time). Past research showed that this new task (that asks people how they emotionally feel about words) is accurate, but that is only half of the puzzle. The current study showed that the task was also reliable; different people were able use the task in a similar way, and people were able to use the task similarly at multiple different times.

Citation: Imbault, C. (T), Shore, D., & Kuperman, V. (2018). Reliability of the sliding scale for collecting affective responses to words. Behavior research methods, 1-9.

The Interplay of Implicit Causality, Structural Heuristics, and Anaphor Type in Ambiguous Pronoun Resolution

People interpret the referent of pronouns such as he/she and that differently depending on the verb that is used. Verbs of implicit causality, such as frighten, reflect the intuition about who was the causer. A new study on Finnish shows that not only are the referents of the pronoun resolved in context according to the preference of the causal verb but also depend on the type of the pronoun he/she versus that.

Citation: Järvikivi, J., van Gompel, R. P., & Hyönä, J. (2017). The interplay of implicit causality, structural heuristics, and anaphor type in ambiguous pronoun resolution. Journal of psycholinguistic research46(3), 525-550.

Contributions of reader-and text-level characteristics to eye-movement patterns during passage reading

The eyes behave and move depending on a multitude of factors while reading. Some of these factors, such as vocabulary size, are relative to the individual’s reading proficiency. Other factors, like the complexity of the words or the sentences, are relative to the text itself. Kuperman et al. used eye-tracking and machine learning techniques to investigate how these components interact with each other during reading. The findings lead to novel hypotheses on the role of individual and linguistic variabilities in determining eye-movement behaviour.

Citation: Kuperman, Victor & Matsuki, Kazunaga & Van Dyke, Julie. (2018). Contributions of reader-and text-level characteristics to eye-movement patterns during passage reading. Journal of Experimental Psychology Learning Memory and Cognition.


Eye-Movement Control in RAN and Reading

If you are good at rapidly and accurately naming objects, colours, letters, and digits aloud, then it is likely that you are also a good reader. In fact, efficiency in this task, called rapid automatized naming (RAN), is highly correlated with an individual’s reading ability, across different ages and skills. The present research investigated the nature of this correlation. Across the different possible factors responsible for it (e.g. vision, meaning or memory), Kuperman et al. proposed the oculomotor control to be crucial. The findings suggest that the correlation between RAN and one’s reading ability relies in part on the individual ability to coordinate eye movements, even if dealing with non-linguistic objects.

Citation: Kuperman, V., Van Dyke, J. A., & Henry, R. (2016). Eye movement control in RAN and reading. Scientific Studies of Reading, 20(2), 173—188.

The Quantum metaphor and the organization of words in the mind

The idea of a mental lexicon as a store of discrete words has been shared by various studies in the cognitive sciences. The current paper proposes a re-examination of the terminology adopted when referring to mental lexicon and words in the brain. We know that experience is at the core of human cognitive ability and therefore representations of words are likely to differ among brains, cognitive capacities, and cultures. Therefore, until they are actually produced, words can exist as potentials of realizations. In this view, metaphors from quantum physics such as particle duality and superposition are particularly useful.

Citation: Libben, G. (2017). The quantum metaphor and the organization of words in the mind. Cultural Cognitive Science, 1, 49-55. doi: 10.1007/s41809-017-0003-5

Read the Research Sketch

Seeking the –ational in derivational morphology

Most words tend to be morphologically complex in language, for instance the English word formality consists not only of such units as form and formal but also -al and -ity. This type of structuring has been shown to influence how people process words. A new experimental study on English investigated the role of these units, on one hand, when processing English morphologically complex words and, on the other, the consistency of these effects across two tasks, namely reading out loud and writing words. The results demonstrated that the morphological structuring of the word influenced both reading out and typing speed.

Citation: Libben G. & Jarema, G., Derwing, B., Riccardi, & Perlak, D. (2016). Seeking the –ational in derivational morphology. Aphasiology, 30:11, 1304-1324. doi: 10.1080/02687038.2016.1165179

Pun processing from a psycholinguistic perspective: Introducing the Model of Psycholinguistic Hemispheric Incongruity Laughter (M.PHIL)

Laughter may seem easy, but have you ever thought about how our brains (we) understand jokes? Imagine the illuminating moment when you see the intended meaning of a joke behind its literal meaning. Tara McHugh and Lori Buchanan conducted a series of pun reading experiments to understand how we resolve double meanings in sentences. Their results support the view that our brain gathers all possible meanings while comprehending a sentence. The most related meanings, however, appear more quickly. So we first see the literal meaning most of the time. They also found that the left side of the brain is faster to gather those meanings whereas the right side of the brain is only able to process the most related meaning during that time.

Citation: McHugh, T.(T) & Buchanan, L. (2016) Pun processing from a psycholinguistic perspective: Introducing the Model of Psycholinguistic Hemispheric Incongruity Laughter (M.PHIL) Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition, 21 , 455-483.

Visual trimorphemic compound recognition in a morphographic script

The paper investigates how Japanese trimorphemic compounds (words made up of three other words) are recognized. In an experiment, researchers asked participants to decide whether the word on the screen was a real word or not while their eye-fixations were recorded by an eye-tracker. The goal was twofold: first, to investigate whether compound recognition processing goes in a specific branching direction: left-branching direction, where the leftmost noun is the most prominent, right-branching direction, where the second noun in the most prominent; and second, to explore whether the compounds are equally important and recognized serially, one after another, or whether complex Japanese characters are decomposed into smaller components called radicals, and recognized in a bottom-up combinatorial manner. Results showed left-branching advantage, character-driven, as opposed to radical driven, bottom-up processing, and uneven contributions of constituent characters, where only first and third constituent frequencies contributed to compound processing.

Citation: Miwa, K. Libben, G., & Yu, I. (2017). Visual trimorphemic compound recognition in a morphographic script. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 32(1), 1-20. doi:10.1080/23273798.2016.1205204.

The influence of gradient foreign accentedness and listener experience on word recognition

Like it or not, accents are noticeable. Porretta, Tucker and Järvikivi’s 2016 study asked whether or not the thickness of an accent would influence how you understand words. They asked people to listen to English words with varying degrees of Chinese accents, and then judge whether or not letters on the screen in front of them formed the word they had just heard. The researchers found that words spoken with stronger accents were accompanied by delayed comprehension and lengthened decision times.

Citation: Porretta, V. (T), Tucker, B. V. (C), & Järvikivi, J. (2016). The influence of gradient foreign accentedness and listener experience on word recognition. Journal of Phonetics58, 1-21.

Spelling Errors Impede Recognition of Correctly Spelled Word Forms

“Inocent.” You just read a word with a spelling error that we see in 39% of occurrences of “innocent” in social media. Recent research from the Reading Lab at McMaster demonstrates that spelling errors are harmful in that they make readers “unlearn” the correct spelling, and do so every time an error is encountered. This detrimental effect of variability in spelling affects all readers, even those whose own spelling habits are impeccable. In two studies using the state-of-the-art eye-tracking technique and a behavioural lexical decision task, undergraduate student Sadaf Rahmanian and Dr. Victor Kuperman at the McMaster Reading Lab showed that readers took longer to recognize words that were spelled correctly, if those words were more frequently misspelled in unedited sources like social media. Sadaf concludes: “Praise be to spell-checkers, literacy instructors, proof-readers and editors, who keep spelling consistent.” The findings were published in the leading journal on literacy and reading research Scientific Studies of Reading.

Citation: Rahmanian, S. (T), & Kuperman, V. (2017). Spelling errors impede recognition of correctly spelled word forms. Scientific Studies of Reading, 1-13.

Previously appeared as a Research Report: So you think you can spell?

Mass counts in World Englishes: A corpus linguistic study of noun countability in non-native varieties of English

Where does luggage become luggages? Remembering the nouns which are only used in singular forms may seem straightforward for a native English speaker. This rule might, however, be challenging for a non-native speaker. Daniel Schmidtke and Victor Kuperman compared six native (e.g., Australia, Canada and Great Britannia) and 12 non-native (e.g., Ghana, India and Singapore) English speaking countries’ usage by analyzing a huge collection of text. The results showed that non-native speakers particularly disregard this rule for a certain group of words including informations, evidences, and knowledges. Also, geographically close countries, like India and Sri Lanka, are more alike than the distant countries, like India and Philippines.

Citation: Schmidtke, D. & Kuperman, V. (2017). Mass counts in World Englishes: A corpus linguistic study of noun countability in non-native varieties of English. Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory, 13(1), 135-164.

Individual Variability in the Semantic Processing of English Compound Words

Compound words are words that are made up of two other words (ex. blueberry, buttercup). Compound words can vary on how transparent they are (do the two words contribute to the meaning of the whole word), for example, blueberry is a transparent compound word, blue and berry contribute to the meaning. Hogwash is an opaque compound word, as neither hog or wash contribute to the meaning. Researchers from McMaster University found that less literate readers struggle most when reading transparent compounds, whereas more literate readers struggle with opaque compounds.

Citation: Schmidtke, D. and Kuperman, V. (in press). Individual variability in the semantic processing of English compound words. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition.

Conceptual relations compete during auditory and visual compound word recognition

The elements of a compound word – such as “snow” and “man” in snowman – interact with each other in various ways: a letterbox is a box for letters, but a cupcake is not a cake for cups. While recognizing and processing a compound word, people select one of the possible relational meanings (such as made of, type of, a person with…) between its elements, out of a wider set of other possible relational meanings for the same compound word. The current study explores how this competition between relational meanings effect both the auditory (speech processing) and the visual (text processing) dimensions.

Citation: Schmidtke, D. (T), Gagné, C. L. (C), Kuperman, V., Spalding, T. L. (C), & Tucker, B. V. (2018). Conceptual relations compete during auditory and visual compound word recognition. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 1-20.

Competition between conceptual relations affects compound recognition: the role of entropy

A transparent compound is a word composed of smaller existing words that have meanings similar to the whole word. For example, a meatball is a ball made of meat. When we read these kinds of compound words, we interpret the relationship between them in our heads. In the English language, there are 10-20 proposed relationships that cover the majority of transparent compounds. These include relationships like “made of,” as in a “meatball,” where the ball is made of meat. The more plausible relational interpretations there are for a transparent compound word, the longer it takes a reader to identify the true meaning of the compound. Additionally, a recent study has indicated that there is cognitive competition between possible relational interpretations, and that the degree of competition can indeed affect reading time as well.

Citation: Schmidtke, D., Kuperman, V., Gagne, C., and Spalding, T. (2016). Competition between conceptual relations affects compound recognition: focusing on entropy. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 23(2), 556-570.

Surviving blind decomposition: a distributional analysis of the time-course of complex word recognition

There has been debate about whether we first process the form of a word (morphology), and then its meaning (semantics), or if the two are processed at the same time. The current study conducted an analysis across 7 experiments to estimate the actual point in time at which we recognize form and meaning. It was found that for derived words, (words like dreamer, where the suffix “er” is added to an existing word) semantic processing precedes or occurs at the same time as morphological processing, contradicting the form-then-meaning theory of word recognition.

Citation: Schmidtke, D. (T), Matsuki, K. (T), & Kuperman, V. (2017). Surviving blind decomposition: A distributional analysis of the time-course of complex word recognition. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition43(11), 1793.

Agentivity drives real-time pronoun resolution: Evidence from German er and der

When engaged in a conversation, there are lots of things you, as the listener, need to keep track of. You need to know both who is speaking, and who (or what) they are referring to. While this may seem simple, the people or things in question (called referents) are every-changing as discourse unfolds. For example, if you hear the word “he,” you will have to use context to figure out “he” is, and it can change from sentence to sentence. The term for this is pronoun resolution.  While many ideas have been proposed as to how we go about this complicated process, this study finds that agentivity (whether the referent can do the action) is the best predictor of pronoun resolution.

Citation: Schumacher, P. B., Roberts, L., & Järvikivi, J. (2017). Agentivity drives real-time pronoun resolution: Evidence from German er and der. Lingua185, 25-41.

‘Can you wash off the hogwash?’ – semantic transparency of first and second constituents in the processing of German compounds

Understanding the meaning of compound words (e.g., blueberry, buttercup) can be a complicated process. This is driven in part by the fact that sometimes the word parts within the compound don’t keep their original meaning (like the ‘pine’ in ‘pineapple’). Using a priming experiment to see how quickly participants respond to German compound words, the researchers manipulated whether they saw a transparent word (e.g., ‘hund’ (dog) in ‘hundeauge’ (dog’s eye)), opaque word (‘huhn’ (horse) in ‘huhnerauge’ (corn)), or an unrelated word prior to responding. The goal was to determine whether these potentially competing meanings either help or hurt the ability to find the correct meaning. Overall, they found that the whole compound and their parts individually all compete for meaning when reading a particular word.

Citation: Smolka, E., & Libben, G. (2016). ‘Can you wash off the hogwash?’– semantic transparency of first and second constituents in the processing of German compounds. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience

It’s all in the delivery: Effects of context valence, arousal, and concreteness on visual word processing

If you’re like most people, the word “innocent” probably makes you feel happy. But when you study the contexts where we use the word innocent, more often than not, those contexts are very unhappy. Innocent is a word we use when talking about crime and courtrooms or when we talk about our “lost innocence.” A recent study by a PhD student Bryor Snefjella and Dr. Victor Kuperman (Words in the World Co-Principal Investigator) from McMaster Reading Lab, published in a premier psychology journal Cognition, shows for the first time that contexts are as powerful in determining emotionality of an English word, as the word itself. It’s been known that positive and concrete words (e.g., ice-cream or smile) are learned earlier in life, recognized faster in print and retained better in memory. This study shows that word learning, recognition and memory is equally strongly affected by how positive or concrete the contexts are in which a word tends to occur.

Citation: Snefjella, B. and Kuperman, V. (2016). It’s all in the delivery: Context influences on word recognition. Cognition, 156, 135-146.

Previously appeared as a Research Report: It’s not what you say; it’s how you frame it.

Sliding Into Happiness: A New Tool for Measuring Affective Responses to Words

Can single words make you feel emotion? Researchers at McMaster University quantified the positivity (ex. death to vacation) and excitedness (ex. library to rollercoaster) of English words by asking how physically close or far we want to be from the words; close meaning we like these words, and far meaning we do not like these words. They found that each individual’s own personality affected the way they rated words, [removed: which had never been found before]. Overall, people who are shy rated words as being more negative than those who are less shy. Additionally, men and women rated some words differently.

Citation: Warriner, A. B., Shore, D. I., Schmidt, L. A, Imbault, C. L., & Kuperman, V. (2017). Sliding into happiness: A new tool for measuring affective responses to words. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 71(1), 71-88.

A Meta-Analysis of Task-Related Influences in Prospective Memory in traumatic brain injury

Memory loss is often one of the most common symptoms of a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Specifically, prospective memory can be affected, which pertains to one’s ability to form and remember future intentions, as well as act on them at the right time. A meta-analysis done by Daniela Wong Gonzalez and Lori Buchanan of the University of Windsor indicates that TBI groups demonstrate poorer prospective memory than control groups, especially when tasks are increased in their level of difficulty. The type of cue or how noticeable the cue was also greatly affected TBI group scores. The research suggests that prospective memory plays a large role in day-to-day life, and should be acknowledged and looked into when assessing individuals with a TBI. This, in turn, may help produce treatment methods that would reduce the number of prospective memory errors in the patient.

Citation: Wong Gonzalez, D. (T) & Buchanan, L. (2017). A Meta-Analysis of Task-Related Influences in Prospective Memory in Traumatic Brain Injury.Neuropsychological Rehabilitation. (In Press). doi: 10.1080/09602011.2017.1313748.

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