Semantic size of abstract concepts: it gets emotional when you can’t see it

Yao, B., Vasiljevic, M., Weick, M., Sereno, M.E., O'Donnell, P.J. and Sereno, S.C. (2013) Semantic size of abstract concepts: it gets emotional when you can’t see it. PLoS ONE, 8(9), e75000. (doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0075000) (PMID:24086421) (PMCID:PMC3783453)

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Size is an important visuo-spatial characteristic of the physical world. In language processing, previous research has demonstrated a processing advantage for words denoting semantically 'big' (e.g., jungle) versus 'small' (e.g., needle) concrete objects. We investigated whether semantic size plays a role in the recognition of words expressing abstract concepts (e.g., truth). Semantically 'big' and 'small' concrete and abstract words were presented in a lexical decision task. Responses to 'big' words, regardless of their concreteness, were faster than those to 'small' words. Critically, we explored the relationship between semantic size and affective characteristics of words as well as their influence on lexical access. Although a word’s semantic size was correlated with its emotional arousal, the temporal locus of arousal effects may depend on the level of concreteness. That is, arousal seemed to have an earlier (lexical) effect on abstract words, but a later(post-lexical) effect on concrete words. Our findings provide novel insights into the semantic representations of size in abstract concepts and highlight that affective attributes of words may not always index lexical access.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Sereno, Dr Sara and O'Donnell, Professor Patrick
Authors: Yao, B., Vasiljevic, M., Weick, M., Sereno, M.E., O'Donnell, P.J., and Sereno, S.C.
Subjects:Q Science > Q Science (General)
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Psychology & Neuroscience
Journal Name:PLoS ONE
Publisher:Public Library of Science
ISSN (Online):1932-6203
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2013 The Authors
First Published:First published in PLoS ONE 8(9):e75000
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
504051Fluent reading and the brain: co-registration and statistical decomposition of eye fixations and anatomically-based electrophysiologySara SerenoEconomic & Social Research Council (ESRC)ES/G035571/1INP - CENTRE FOR COGNITIVE NEUROIMAGING