Psychology Publications

Integrating Words That Refer to Typical Sequences of Events

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Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology





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The organisation and processing of event concepts in semantic memory is an important issue in language processing and memory research. The present study tested whether pairs of words denoting events that can plausibly occur in sequence (marinate-grill) generate expectancies for a target that denotes a subsequently occurring event (chew). In Experiment 1, two events that tend to occur sequentially primed the third. In Experiment 2, the individual primes (i.e., marinate and grill separately) did not prime their related event targets. Experiments 1 and 2 used a lexical-decision task on the target. Therefore, information from both primes must be integrated to sufficiently activate knowledge of the subsequently occurring target. This is the first study to demonstrate priming among words denoting sequentially occurring events. In Experiment 3, a relatedness decision task, processing of these event triplets was facilitated when the first two event words were presented in a temporally correct order compared with when their order was reversed. These findings are not predicted by spreading activation theory and cannot be simulated by corpus-based models that do not include order-sensitive measures. We interpret the results as evidence for the role of situation models and the use of world knowledge during online language comprehension, even in the absence of sentential contexts.

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