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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00659

Cognitive and personality components underlying spoken idiom comprehension in context. An exploratory study.

 Cristina Cacciari1*, Paola Corradini1 and Fabio Ferlazzo2
  • 1Department of Biomedical, Metabolic and Neural Sciences, Università degli Studi di Modena e Reggio Emilia, Italy
  • 2Department of Psychology, Faculty of Medicine and Psychology, Sapienza University of Rome, Italy

In this exploratory study, we investigated whether and to what extent individual differences in cognitive and personality variables are associated with spoken idiom comprehension in context. Language unimpaired participants were enrolled in a cross-modal lexical decision study in which semantically ambiguous Italian idioms (i.e., strings with both a literal and an idiomatic interpretation as, for instance, break the ice), predictable or unpredictable before the string offset, were embedded in idiom-biasing contexts. To explore the contributions of different cognitive and personality components, participants also completed a series of tests respectively assessing general speed, inhibitory control, short-term and working memory, cognitive flexibility, crystallized and fluid intelligence, and personality. Stepwise regression analyses revealed that online idiom comprehension was associated with the participants’ working memory, inhibitory control and crystallized verbal intelligence, an association modulated by idiom type. Also personality-related variables (State Anxiety and Openness to Experience) were associated with idiom comprehension, although in marginally significant ways. These results contribute to the renewed interest on how individual variability modulates language comprehension, and for the first time document contributions of individual variability on lexicalized, high frequency multi-word expressions as idioms adding new knowledge to the existing evidence on metaphor and sarcasm.

Keywords: Idiom comprehension, individual differences, working memory, Inhibitory Control, vocabulary, cognitive flexibility, Personality, predictability, context

Received: 24 Jan 2018; Accepted: 16 Apr 2018.

Edited by:

Nira Mashal, Bar-Ilan University, Israel

Reviewed by:

Giorgio Arcara, IRCCS Fondazione Ospedale San Camillo, Italy
Filippo Domaneschi, Università di Genova, Italy  

Copyright: © 2018 Cacciari, Corradini and Ferlazzo. 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: Prof. Cristina Cacciari, Università degli Studi di Modena e Reggio Emilia, Department of Biomedical, Metabolic and Neural Sciences, via Campi 287, Modena, Italy,