Interhemispheric processing in ambiguous word recognition

Abstract : Several studies have shown that ambiguous words are recognized faster than unambiguous ones in central viewing conditions (Borowsky & Masson, 1996). Many accounts of this so-called ambiguity effect hypothesize an activation feedback from the different meanings to the lexical entry representing the ambiguous word. However, recent results challenged this account showing a disadvantage for ambiguous words having unrelated meanings (homonymy), and an advantage for polysemic words, having related senses (e.g., Rodd et al., 2002). A divided visual field study was conducted to test hypotheses about the contribution of interhemispheric processing to the ambiguity effect for homonyms. Lexical decisions were performed by normal participants on ambiguous and unambiguous words, and on pseudowords. Ambiguous words were either highly polarized, for which frequency of the dominant meaning is clearly higher than for subordinate meaning, or moderately polarized. Stimuli were presented either unilaterally, in the right visual field (RVF) or in the left visual field (LVF), or bilaterally (BVF), that is simultaneously in the LVF and in the RVF. Only moderately polarized ambiguous words exhibited a bilateral gain (Pulvermüller, 1999): Lexical decisions on these words were more accurate in the BVF condition than in the RVF condition (here the better of the two visual fields). In addition, the ambiguity effect was only evidenced in bilateral presentation for moderately polarized ambiguous words. Surprisingly, responses on pseudowords in the BVF condition were faster and more accurate than in the RVF condition: This bilateral gain is interpreted in the "horse race" model framework (Raab, 1962). Our study confirms the ambiguity effect for homonyms, but this effect seems to be restricted to moderately polarized ambiguous words in BVF condition. Therefore, semantic feedback provided by bilateral activation of the two meanings adequately explains the ambiguity effect. All these results will be discussed in terms of cooperative or competitive interhemispheric processing (see Collins, 2002, for a different view).
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Audrey Deudon, Sylvane Faure, Pierre Thérouanne. Interhemispheric processing in ambiguous word recognition. 2nd Meeting of the European Societies of Neuropsychology, 2006, Toulouse, France. 2006. ⟨hal-01740070⟩

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