Meaning and Modality: Influences of Context, Semantic Memory Organization, and Perceptual Predictability on Picture Processing

Kara D. Federmeier, Marta Kutas


Using event-related potentials (ERPs), the authors investigated the influences of sentence context, semantic memory organization, and perceptual predictability on picture processing. Participants read pairs of highly or weakly constraining sentences that ended with (a) the expected item, (b) an unexpected item from the expected semantic category, or (c) an unexpected item from an unexpected category. Pictures were unfamiliar in Experiment 1 but preexposed in Experiment 2. ERPs to pictures reflected both contextual fit and memory organization, as do ERPs to words in the same contexts (K. D. Federmeier & M. Kutas, 1999). However, different response patterns were observed to pictures than to words. Some of these arose from perceptual predictability differences, whereas others seem to reflect true modality-based differences in semantic feature activation. Although words and pictures may share semantic memory, the authors' results show that semantic processing is not amodal.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language

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