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Unit 8: The Meaning of Meaning

15 Pages

Course Code
Psychology 2134A/B
Marc Joanisse

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Unit 8The Meaning of Meaning Overview In this class you will learn about Mechanisms of semantic memory and how they are related to our understanding of meaning Controversies about whether figurative language is special or distinct from semantic meaning Proposed mechanisms for uncovering figurative meaning in an utterance Semantic Memory Part of our longterm memory system it encompasses our knowledge of concepts This is a type of explicit or declarative knowledge such that it is sometimes called our encyclopedic knowledgeSemantic knowledge is knowledge of discrete concepts which includes objects ideas actions properties really anything you can think of can be a concept We dont think of concepts and words as the same thing because to do so assumes that every language has a word for every conceptwe know this is not true For instance not every language has separate color name for green vs blue In 1969 CollinsQuillian published an influential theory of semantic memory that we encode the meanings of concepts within a linked network Here is a very small network that is a small subset of what all our semantic knowledge would look likeEvery concept is linked to other concepts and the nature of these links tells us about that concepts properties Likewise we can figure out the relationship among things by looking at the links Here we know that a chimp is a mammal but we also know that an ostrich is not a mammal We also know that both chickadees and chimps are animals You could imagine that all of our semantic knowledge can be described by creating a huge network just like the one aboveHow to Test This Model One way to test our semantic knowledge is using a semantic priming procedure Recall from earlier lectures you can test lexical decision RTs by presenting different primes prior to a target word For instance perhaps you want to test recognition time for the word ROBIN You can present a prime like bird versus no primeAnd indeed we find faster lexical decision RTs when the word ROBIN is primedThe size of the priming effect is obtained by comparing the primed vs unprimed condition Here it is about a 50 ms priming effect What about ifwe prime ROBIN with an unrelated word like table Will we get slower RTs we call this inhibition The answer is yes and no It depends on how long we wait between the prime and the target The gap between the prime and target is called the SOA or stimulus onset asynchrony Longer SOAs mean we present the prime and wait a little bit before the target As the graph below shows we plot the size of the priming effect for related vs unrelated primes at different SOAsThe blue line shows the unrelated prime We see no priming at 250 ms SOA However at longer SOAs we see inhibition negative primingpeople are slower if they see the unrelated prime than if you hadnt shown anything at all In contrast the related prime in red shows priming effects at all SOAs Whats Going OnIt appears that when the prime activates the concept BIRD this activation spreads to related concepts including ROBIN Because of this spreading activation it is easier to retrieve the concept ROBIN than if we hadnt shown a prime However the unrelated prime is not directly linked to ROBIN So at short SOAs there is no difference But if we wait long enough after the prime subjects can become consciously aware of it and might begin to develop some
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