Semantic Ambiguity: Do Multiple Meanings Inhibit or Facilitate Word Recognition?

Abstract

It is not clear whether multiple unrelated meanings inhibit or facilitate word recognition. Some studies have found a disadvantage for words having multiple meanings with respect to unambiguous words in lexical decision tasks (LDT), whereas several others have shown a facilitation for such words. In the present study, we argue that these inconsistent findings may be due to the approach employed to select ambiguous words across studies. To address this issue, we conducted three LDT experiments in which we varied the measure used to classify ambiguous and unambiguous words. The results suggest that multiple unrelated meanings facilitate word recognition. In addition, we observed that the approach employed to select ambiguous words may affect the pattern of experimental results. This evidence has relevant implications for theoretical accounts of ambiguous words processing and representation.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We thank an anonymous reviewer for this suggestion.

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Funding

Funding was provided by Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (Grant No. PSI2015-63525-P), Research Promotion Program of the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (Grant No. 2014PFR-URV-B2-37), and Universitat Rovira i Virgili (Grant No. 2015PMF-PIPF-16).

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Correspondence to Juan Haro.

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Haro, J., Ferré, P. Semantic Ambiguity: Do Multiple Meanings Inhibit or Facilitate Word Recognition?. J Psycholinguist Res 47, 679–698 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10936-017-9554-3

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Keywords

  • Semantic ambiguity
  • Ambiguity advantage
  • Ambiguity disadvantage
  • Multiple meanings
  • Word recognition