Humans’ ability to comprehend language seems to rely on both mental reconstructions of what we have experienced in the world and statistically-based expectations of how language is used. This study adapted a comparison of perceptual and statistical explanations of word comprehension in the auditory modality. Participants completed a series of trials in which they heard cue words, some of which were spatially oriented (e.g., sky, ground), and then completed a letter identification task. In this task, the letter appeared on the computer screen in either a congruent location or an incongruent location. The position of the letter at the top or bottom of the screen was defined as congruent if it matched: 1) the spatial meaning of the cue word (e.g., up for “sky”); or 2) the direction that occurs most frequently with the cue word in English corpora (e.g., down for “slow”). Response times to the letter task were expected to replicate prior findings that participants identify letters in congruent locations faster than incongruent ones. Eye-tracking was used as an additional measure of embodied perceptual processing. Where participants looked on the computer screen was predicted to correspond with the imagined spatial location of the cue word. Differences in eye movement patterns did not support the perceptual processing hypothesis. The correlation between a word’s statistical co-occurrence with spatial words and response times was significant.
Hejl, Alena, "Language Use Statistics and Perceptual Simulation in Language Processing" (2016). Linguistics Honors Projects. 10.
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