Effects of representational distance between meanings on the neural correlates of semantic ambiguity

Christopher M. Grindrod, Emily O. Garnett, Svetlana Malyutina, Dirk B. den Ouden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Psycholinguistic research demonstrates that representational distance between meanings influences recognition of ambiguous words. Our goal was to investigate whether the neural correlates of ambiguity are also modulated by representational distance as a function of syntactic similarity (i.e., grammatical class) and meaning dominance. In an event-related fMRI experiment, participants completed a visual lexical decision task that included balanced and unbalanced noun-noun and noun-verb homonyms, unambiguous words, and nonwords. Syntactic similarity effects were observed in left inferior frontal regions, with greater activation for noun-verb than noun-noun homonyms. Meaning dominance effects were observed in left middle and superior temporal regions, with greater activation for balanced than unbalanced homonyms. These findings indicate that the behavioral cost associated with processing ambiguous word meanings, modulated by syntactic similarity and meaning dominance, is reflected in the neural systems underlying ambiguity processing, as frontal and temporal regions are recruited by increased competition as a function of representational distance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-35
Number of pages13
JournalBrain and Language
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014


  • FMRI
  • Grammatical class
  • Inferior frontal gyrus
  • Lexical ambiguity
  • Meaning dominance
  • Middle temporal gyrus
  • Representational distance
  • Superior temporal gyrus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Speech and Hearing


Dive into the research topics of 'Effects of representational distance between meanings on the neural correlates of semantic ambiguity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this