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The effects of sentence context on the processing of figurative language in an adult population with normal cognition McPhee, Rosemary Michelle


The purpose of this study was to investigate how contextual information, prior to an idiomatic expression, affects the automatic processing of idiomatic expressions in an adult population with normal cognition. An on-line wordmonitoring reaction-time task was used in which subjects were required to identify target words in spoken passages. The target words were final words from six idiomatic expressions. The idiomatic expressions were embedded in contexts biasing them to either a figurative interpretation, a literal interpretation, or an ambiguous context in which neither a figurative or a literal interpretation could be predicted from the contextual information preceding the idiomatic phrase. A filler condition was also presented in which target words were presented without the idiomatic expressions. It was found that subjects responded faster to target words in the idiomatic, literal, and ambiguous context conditions than to target words in the filler condition. Reaction times to target words in the literal context condition were faster than target words in the ambiguous context condition. Reaction times to target words in idiomatic context conditions were faster than ambiguous context conditions and slower than literal context conditions; however, this difference was not significant. These results support the Key Word Hypothesis which assumes that idiomatic expressions are processed literally until the key word is encountered. When the key word is encountered, the figurative interpretation is triggered.

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