Neural correlates of semantic competition during processing of ambiguous words

Natalia Y. Bilenko, Christopher M. Grindrod, Emily B. Myers, Sheila E. Blumstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The current study investigated the neural correlates that underlie the processing of ambiguous words and the potential effects of semantic competition on that processing. Participants performed speeded lexical decisions on semantically related and unrelated prime-target pairs presented in the auditory modality. The primes were either ambiguous words (e.g., ball) or unambiguous words (e.g., athlete), and targets were either semantically related to the dominant (i.e., most frequent) meaning of the ambiguous prime word (e.g., soccer) or to the subordinate (i.e., less frequent) meaning (e.g., dance). Results showed increased activation in the bilateral inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) for ambiguous-related compared to unambiguous-related stimulus pairs, demonstrating that prefrontal areas are activated even in an implicit task where participants are not required to explicitly analyze the semantic content of the stimuli and to make an overt selection of a particular meaning based on this analysis. Additionally, increased activation was found in the left IFG and the left cingulate gyrus for subordinate meaning compared to dominant meaning conditions, suggesting that additional resources are recruited in order to resolve increased competition demands in accessing the subordinate meaning of an ambiguous word.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)960-975
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of cognitive neuroscience
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2009
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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