The Temporal Dynamics of Ambiguous Word Comprehension

When and Where

Wednesday, January 10, 2018 12:15 pm to 1:30 pm
Room 3130, Sidney Smith Hall, 100 St. George Street


Blair Armstrong


Abstract: Understanding how ambiguous words are comprehended (e.g., / BANK) is a fundamental requirement for a theory of word and discourse comprehension, and is particularly challenging because of the discrepant ambiguity effects reported between - and sometimes within - tasks. I show how a more biologically plausible model explains a broad range of ambiguity effects based on how semantic activity unfolds over time. Targeted empirical studies support (to a degree) the novel predictions of the model, and falsify those of a popular alternative account based on the decision system. Extending this work, I report simulations of an important ERP correlate of simple context-sensitive word comprehension - N400 ERP repetition effects - thus providing an explicit mechanistic link between word comprehension, neuroimaging data, and the biologically-plausible computational architecture. Time permitting, I will also describe new related lines of research exploring the structure of ambiguous word meanings using computational models of word co-occurrence, as well as how we are attempting to create new "artificial" ambiguous words using a paradigm borrowed from statistical learning.

Watch video of Blair Armstong talk at

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