The contribution of semantics to the sentence superiority effect


  • Massol Stéphanie
  • Mirault Jonathan
  • Grainger Jonathan

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When a sequence of written words is presented briefly and participants are asked to report the identity of one of the words, identification accuracy is higher when the words form a correct sentence. Here we examined the extent to which this sentence superiority effect can be modulated by semantic content. The central hypothesis guiding this study is that the sentence superiority effect is primarily a syntactic effect. We therefore predicted little or no modulation of the effect by semantics. The influence of semantic content was measured by comparing the sentence superiority effect obtained with semantically regular sentences (e.g., son amie danse bien [her friend dances well]) and semantically anomalous but syntactically correct sentences (e.g., votre sac boit gros [your bag drinks big]), with effects being measured against ungrammatical scrambled versions of the same words in both cases. We found sentence superiority effects with both types of sentences, and a significant interaction, such that the effects were greater with semantically regular sentences compared with semantically anomalous sentences. We conclude that sentence-level semantic information can constrain word identities under parallel word processing, albeit with less impact than that exerted by syntax.

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