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A 'no' with a trace of 'yes': a mouse-tracking study of negative sentence processing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article number104084
JournalCognition
Volume198
Early online date27 Jan 2020
DateAccepted/In press - 29 Sep 2019
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 27 Jan 2020
DatePublished - 1 May 2020

Abstract

There is strong evidence that comprehenders can parse sentences in an incremental fashion. However, when the sentence contains a negation, the evidence is less clear. Previous work has shown that increasing the pragmatic felicity of a negative sentence reduces or eliminates any processing overhead relative to affirmative sentences. However, in previous work felicity has gone hand-in-hand with the predictability of critical material in a sentence. In three experiments reported here, we presented equally felicitous sentences with critical material of varying predictability (operationalised as the number of possible completions) to test whether this might be a critical factor determining the ease with which partial sentences containing a negation are interpreted. Participants completed a truth-value judgement task (Experiment 1) or a sentence completion task (Experiments 2 and 3) after viewing a visual environment that provided the context for a test sentence, which could differ in truth value (in Experiment 1 only), polarity (affirmative or negative), and number of possible completions (one, two, or three). In all three experiments, we recorded response times and accuracy, but also response dynamics via participants’ computer mouse trajectories, allowing us to test specific hypotheses about the time course of comprehension. Across all experiments, in conditions with one or two possible targets, we observed consistent detrimental effects of negative polarity, suggesting that the difficulty in processing negation cannot be reduced to effects relating to predictability or pragmatic felicity. We discuss this finding in relation to incremental and two-stage models of processing and outline a new account of the processing difficulty arising from negation in terms of a conflict between what is locally activated on the basis of individual words and phrases and the global meaning of a negative sentence.

    Research areas

  • negation, mouse-tracking, sentence processing, prediction

    Structured keywords

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Brain and Behaviour
  • Cognitive Science
  • Language

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  • Full-text PDF (author’s accepted manuscript)

    Rights statement: This is the author accepted manuscript (AAM). The final published version (version of record) is available online via Elsevier at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0010027719302586?via%3Dihub. Please refer to any applicable terms of use of the publisher.

    Accepted author manuscript, 1.17 MB, PDF document

    Licence: CC BY-NC-ND

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