The Mechanisms of Activation and Competitive Inhibition

  • Nicole Gotzner
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Pragmatics, Language and Cognition book series (PSPLC)


This chapter investigates immediate representations of focus alternatives to explore the mechanisms underlying the establishment of alternative sets and the impact of focus particles on these mechanisms. In particular, Experiments 2 and 3 test the retrieval/activation of contextually mentioned alternatives and additional unmentioned alternatives (an earlier version of this chapter was published in Gotzner et al. Lang Cogn 8:59–95, 2016). [This chapter is a version of the article (Gotzner et al. Lang Cogn 8:59–95, 2016). Experiments 2 and 3 were designed by Katharina Spalek and myself. I analyzed all data and wrote the article.] The overall goal of the experiments is to assess the activation and competition among members of the alternative set. The first experiment uses a probe recognition task and shows that focus particles interfere with the recognition of mentioned alternatives and the rejection of unmentioned alternatives relative to a condition without a particle. A second lexical decision experiment demonstrated priming effects for mentioned and unmentioned alternatives (compared with an unrelated condition) while focus particles caused additional interference effects. Overall, our results indicate that focus particles trigger an active search for alternatives and lead to a competition between mentioned alternatives, unmentioned alternatives, and the focused element.


Focus particles Alternative-set semantics Probe recognition task Lexical decision task Competitive inhibition 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicole Gotzner
    • 1
  1. 1.Humboldt UniversityBerlinGermany

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