Semantic Apparatus – Processing symbolic magnitude information conveyed by number words and by scalar adjectives

Cited by Lee Sonogan

Philosophical Disquisitions: Understanding Symbolic Value: A Taxonomy

Abstract by Arnold R Kochari, Herbert Schriefers

Humans not only process and compare magnitude information such as size, duration, and number perceptually, but they also communicate about these properties using language. In this respect, a relevant class of lexical items are so-called scalar adjectives like “big,” “long,” “loud,” and so on which refer to magnitude information. It has been proposed that humans use an amodal and abstract representation format shared by different dimensions, called the generalised magnitude system (GMS). In this paper, we test the hypothesis that scalar adjectives are symbolic references to GMS representations, and, therefore, GMS gets involved in processing their meaning. Previously, a parallel hypothesis on the relation between number symbols and GMS representations has been tested with the size congruity paradigm. The results of these experiments showed interference between the processing of number symbols and the processing of physical (font-) size. In the first three experiments of the present study (total N = 150), we used the size congruity paradigm and the same/different task to look at the potential interaction between physical size magnitude and numerical magnitude expressed by number words. In the subsequent three experiments (total N = 149), we looked at a parallel potential interaction between physical size magnitude and scalar adjective meaning. In the size congruity paradigm, we observed interference between the processing of the numerical value of number words and the meaning of scalar adjectives, on the one hand, and physical (font-) size, on the other hand, when participants had to judge the number words or the adjectives (while ignoring physical size). No interference was obtained for the reverse situation, i.e., when participants judged the physical font size (while ignoring numerical value or meaning). The results of the same/different task for both number words and scalar adjectives strongly suggested that the interference that was observed in the size congruity paradigm was likely due to a response conflict at the decision stage of processing rather than due to the recruitment of GMS representations. Taken together, it can be concluded that the size congruity paradigm does not provide evidence in support the hypothesis that GMS representations are used in the processing of number words or scalar adjectives. Nonetheless, the hypothesis we put forward about scalar adjectives is still is a promising potential line of research. We make a number of suggestions for how this hypothesis can be explored in future studies.

Publication: Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology (Peer-Reviewed Journal)

Pub Date: July 16, 2021 Doi: (Plenty more sections and references in this research article

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