ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2018, Vol. 50 ›› Issue (2): 186-196.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2018.00186

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 The processing of negative sentences in different semantic context

 CHEN Guangyao; HE Xianyou; LIU Tao   

  1.  (1 Journalism and Communication College/Media State-level Experimental Teaching Demonstration Center, Jinan University, Guangzhou 510632, China) (2 School of Psychology, South China Normal University/Centre for Studies of Psychological Application, Guangzhou 510631, China)
  • Received:2016-07-21 Published:2018-02-25 Online:2017-12-26
  • Contact: HE Xianyou, E-mail:; CHEN Guangyao, E-mail:
  • Supported by:

Abstract:  Affirmation and negation are two main semantic and grammatical categories in any language. The propositional theory and experiential-simulations view were proposed to explain the processing mechanism of negative sentences. Both of their supporters have supplied plenty of empirical evidence, but neither of them can beat each other. Thus, the comprehensive theories, such as dual coding theory, LASS and symbolic interdependency hypothesis have been proposed to fill the gap. In the present study, we design two eye-tracking experiments to lend further support to comprehensive theories. In the two experiments, eye-tracking technical was adopted to explore the processing mechanism of negative sentences in different semantic contexts. In Experiment 1, the alternative choices (e.g., outspread arm) presented to the participants have close semantic connection with the negated events of the sentences (e.g., the arm isn’t crooked); In Experiment 2, the alternative choices (e.g., black skirt) presented to the participants have relatively weak semantic connection with the depicted negative events (e.g., the skirt isn’t blue). In summary, ‘blue-black’ has relatively weaker semantic connection than that of ‘outspread-crook’. In these two eye-tracking experiments, voice was used to present the negative sentence, and the corresponding pictures were presented at the moment of reading the words depicting the negated state (e.g., crook/blue). And the participants’ task was to choose which picture matched the sentence. The results demonstrated that, at the early stage of processing, there was no difference between the fixation probabilities to pictures depicting the negated state of affairs (crooked arm) and their alternative (outspread arm) in experiment 1 at time window 201~600 ms. In contrast, participants had higher fixation probabilities to pictures depicting the negated state of affairs (blue skirt) than that to pictures depicting the alternatives in experiment 2 at time window 401~600 ms. Then at the later stage, participants showed higher fixation probabilities to the pictures depicting alternatives to the pictures depicting the negated state of affairs from 601 ms in experiment 1 and 801ms in the experiment 2. Besides, the fixation probabilities to the pictures depicting the negated states were lower than the random level after 1001 ms in both of the two experiments. The results from the two experiments showed that, both propositional process and simulating process are necessary when processing negative sentences. Compared with processing negative sentence in weak semantic context, it’s easier for participants to get the actual state of event with the help of strong semantic context. In addition, participants will not keep the simulation of the negated state of event in his mind, which supports suppression hypothesis. In summary, the results support the symbolic interdependency hypothesis as well as suppression hypothesis.

Key words:  negation, context, symbolic interdependency hypothesis, two-step simulation hypothesis, anchor-based activation and satisfaction constrained mode

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