cSCAN Rounds

On the need of simulating what is unspecified: negations in a visual world paradigm

Comprehension of negative sentences is sometimes assumed to involve compulsory simulation of the actual situations, even when they were underspecified (Kaup et al, 2007). To test this assumption we used a Visual World Paradigm in which participants heard affirmative and negative sentences while their eye-movements were monitored. In four experiments, participants explored visual displays composed by arrays of four colored figures (e.g., red, green, brown, blue circles) while hearing affirmative (e.g., the figure is red) or negative sentences (e.g., the figure is not red). In two of these experiments, we used binary settings (founded by a previous context-sentence), so that the actual situation for negatives was explicit (e.g., the figure could be either red or blue) and non-binary settings (e.g., the figure could be red, or blue, or yellow). In the other two, no sentence was offered as specification context. The results showed that eye-movement patterns for negatives varied as a function of whether or not the actual situation was well specified. For specific (binary) settings, participants’ eye-movements fixed mainly on the object representing the actual object (e.g., the green circle). In contrast, for non-specific settings (non-binary conditions and no context experiments), fixations occurred mostly on the negated object (e.g., the red circle). Willingness to fix eye on objects representing the negated situation is at odds with the compulsory-simulation approach. Alternatively, it suggests that comprehension of negatives could sometimes involve symbolic representations favoring views of meaning-comprehension that allow for both iconic and symbolic representations.