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Property generation reflects word association and situated simulation

  • Ava Santos (a1), Sergio E. Chaigneau (a2), W. Kyle Simmons (a3) and Lawrence W. Barsalou (a4)


The property generation task (i.e. “feature listing”) is often assumed to measure concepts. Typically, researchers assume implicitly that the underlying representation of a concept consists of amodal propositions, and that verbal responses during property generation reveal their conceptual content. The experiments reported here suggest instead that verbal responses during property generation reflect two alternative sources of information: the linguistic form system and the situated simulation system. In two experiments, properties bearing a linguistic relation to the word for a concept were produced earlier than properties not bearing a linguistic relation, suggesting the early properties tend to originate in a word association process. Conversely, properties produced later tended to describe objects and situations, suggesting that late properties tend to originate from describing situated simulations. A companion neuroimaging experiment reported elsewhere confirms that early properties originate in language areas, whereas later properties originate in situated simulation areas. Together, these results, along with other results in the literature, indicate that property generation is a relatively complex process, drawing on at least two systems somewhat asynchronously.


Corresponding author

Correspondence addresses: Ava Santos, Department of Psychology, 1000 Rim Dr., Fort Lewis College, Durango, CO 81301, USA
Department of Psychology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA. E-mail: or


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