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Lexical Processing of Ambiguous Words: Dominance or Associative Strength?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 April 2014

Francisco Nievas*
Universidad de Almería
Fernando Justicia
Universidad de Granada
José J. Cañas
Universidad de Granada
M. Teresa Bajo
Universidad de Granada
Address correspondence to: Francisco Nievas C., Departamento de Psicología Evolutiva y de la Educación, Universidad de Almería, La Cañada de San Urbano, 04120 Almería (Spain). Phone: + 34 950 01 53 75. FAX: +34 950 01 50 83. E-mail:


Four experiments examined the role of meaning frequency (dominance) and associative strength (measured by associative norms) in the processing of ambiguous words in isolation. Participants made lexical decisions to targets words that were associates of the more frequent (dominant) or less frequent (subordinate) meaning of a homograph prime. The first two experiments investigated the role of associative strength at long SOAs (Stimulus Onset Asynchrony) (750 ms.), showing that meaning is facilitated by the targets' associative strength and not by their dominance. The last two experiments traced the role associative strength at short SOAs (250 ms), showing that the manipulation of the associative strength has no effect in the semantic priming. The conclusions are: on the one hand, semantic priming for homographs is due to associative strength manipulations at long SOAs. On the other hand, the manipulation of the associative strength has no effect when automatic processes (short SOAs) are engaged for homographs.

A través de cuatro experimentos, se examinó el papel de la frecuencia del significado (dominancia) y de la fuerza asociativa (medida mediante normas asociativas) en el procesamiento de palabras ambiguas aisladas. Los participantes tomaron decisiones léxicas acerca de palabras meta que eran las asociadas del significado más frecuente (dominante) o menos frecuente (subordinado) de un homógrafo primo. Los primeros dos experimentos investigaron el papel de la fuerza asociativa en las SOAs (asincronía del comienzo del estímulo) largas (750 ms), demostrando que el significado se ve facilitado por la fuerza asociativa de la meta y no por su dominancia. Los segundos experimentos trazaron el papel de la fuerza asociativa en las SOAs cortas (250 ms), demostrando que la manipulación de la fuerza asociativa no influye en la ceba semántica. Se concluye que: (a) la ceba semántica para homográficos se debe a las manipulaciones de la fuerza asociativa en las SOAs largas y (b) la manipulación de la fuerza asociativa no tiene ningún efecto cuando los procesos automáticos (SOAs cortas) están ocupados para los homógrafos.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2005

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