Seminar Series

Event comprehension and competition between multiple representations of the same object

Language understanding requires the ability to track multiple representations of an object as it changes state or location. On reading “The squirrel will crack the acorn” we must maintain multiple instantiations of the acorn; before it was cracked, and after. These representations are necessary components of the associated event-representation. We propose that subsequent reference to the acorn engenders conflict with respect to whether the uncracked or cracked instantiation is intended, and that a behavioral consequence of this conflict is reduced accessibility due to the interference between these distinct instantiations. Multiple instantiations of the same object, which may be inherently similar, might be particularly susceptible to similarity-based interference – hence increased conflict and reduced accessibility. If true, this would have important implications for a range of cognitive phenomena, including phenomena that have been used to track developmental change. A series of fMRI studies, and also eye-tracking studies, confirm that multiple instantiations of the same object (reflecting the ‘before’ and ‘after’ states of that object) do in fact compete. Interestingly, the fMRI studies revealed that similarity-based interference is not what drives the effect; whereas the representations of multiple, but distinct, objects are subject to similarity-based interference, multiple instantiations of the same object in distinct states are subject to dissimilarity-based interference.