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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00211

Integration of world knowledge and temporary information about changes in an object’s environmental location during different stages of sentence comprehension

 Xuqian Chen1*, Wei Yang1, Jiaxin Li1 and Lijun Ma2
  • 1South China Normal University, China
  • 2Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine, China

Recent findings have shown that information about changes in an object’s environmental location in the context of discourse is stored in working memory during sentence comprehension. However, in these studies, changes in the object’s location were always consistent with world knowledge (e.g., in “The writer picked up the pen from the floor and moved it to the desk,” the floor and the desk are both common locations for a pen). How do people accomplish comprehension when the object-location information in working memory is inconsistent with world knowledge (e.g., a pen being moved from the floor to the bathtub)? In two visual world experiments, with a “look-and-listen” task, we used eye-tracking data to investigate comprehension of sentences that described location changes under different conditions of appropriateness (i.e., the object and its location were typically vs. unusually coexistent, based on world knowledge) and antecedent context (i.e., contextual information that did vs. did not temporarily normalize unusual coexistence between object and location). Results showed that listeners’ retrieval of the critical location was affected by both world knowledge and working memory, and the effect of world knowledge was reduced when the antecedent context normalized unusual coexistence of object and location. More importantly, activation of world knowledge and working memory seemed to change during the comprehension process. These results are important because they demonstrate that interference between world knowledge and information in working memory, appears to be activated dynamically during sentence comprehension.

Keywords: sentence comprehension, world knowledge, object-location pair, object-location information, visual word paradigm

Received: 04 Oct 2017; Accepted: 08 Feb 2018.

Edited by:

Anna M. Borghi, Sapienza Università di Roma, Italy

Reviewed by:

Michael L. Mack, University of Toronto, Canada
Gabriel Radvansky, University of Notre Dame, United States  

Copyright: © 2018 Chen, Yang, Li and Ma. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Xuqian Chen, South China Normal University, Guangzhou, China, chenxuqian@m.scnu.edu.cn