Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 48, Issue 2, pp 519–534 | Cite as

Is There an Orthographic Boost for Ambiguous Words During Their Processing?

  • Juan HaroEmail author
  • Montserrat Comesaña
  • Pilar Ferré


The present study explores the issue of why ambiguous words are recognized faster than unambiguous ones during word recognition. To this end we contrasted two different hypotheses: the semantic feedback hypothesis (Hino and Lupker in J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 22:1331–1356, 1996., and the hypothesis proposed by Borowsky and Masson (J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cognit 22:63–85, 1996. Although both hypotheses agree that ambiguous words benefit during recognition in that they engage more semantic activation, they disagree as to whether or not this greater semantic activation feeds back to the orthographic level, hence speeding up the orthographic coding of ambiguous words. Participants were presented with ambiguous and unambiguous words in two tasks, a lexical decision task (LDT) and a two-alternative forced-choice task (2AFC). We found differences between ambiguous and unambiguous words in both the LDT and the 2AFC tasks. These results suggest that the orthographic coding of ambiguous words is boosted during word processing. This finding lends support to the semantic feedback hypothesis.


Semantic ambiguity Ambiguity advantage Word recognition Orthographic processing Two-alternative forced-choice task 



This research was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (PSI2015-63525-P) and by the Research Promotion Program of the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (2016PFR-URV-B2-37). This has also been partially supported by the FCT (Foundation for Science and Technology) through the state budget with Reference IF/00784/2013/CP1158/CT0013. The first author also holds a grant from the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (2015PMF-PIPF-16).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Research Center for Behavior Assessment (CRAMC)Universitat Rovira i VirgiliTarragonaSpain
  2. 2.Human Cognition Lab, CIPsi, School of PsychologyUniversity of MinhoBragaPortugal

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