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A verbal illusion in two languages

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The study replicates Wason and Reich's (1979) investigation of the sentence “No head injury is too trivial to be ignored,” which is semantically and pragmatically anomalous (target sentence), in three experiments. Data from Experiment I show that sentences violating semantic and pragmatic restrictions resist correct parsing of syntax, systematically confirming Wason and Reich's results. Experiment II shows that when subjects are alerted to the violation of semantic and pragmatic restrictions displayed by the target sentence, it leads, to some extent, to correct parsing of syntax, but it also demonstrates that misconstrual of the target sentence is still a very robust phenomenon. When semantic anomaly is removed and conflict of pragmatic factor is minimized (corrected version of the target sentence), performance improves substantially (Experiment III), as Wason and Reich's data also suggest.

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  1. Wason, P. C., & Reich, S. S. (1979). A verbal illusion.Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 31, (4), 591–597.

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Natsopoulos, D. A verbal illusion in two languages. J Psycholinguist Res 14, 385–397 (1985). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01067882

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  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Head Injury
  • Target Sentence
  • Robust Phenomenon
  • Pragmatic Factor