Time course of priming for associate and inference words in a discourse context

Robert E. Till, Ernest F. Mross, Walter Kintsch

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180 Scopus citations


The construction of word meanings in a discourse context was conceptualized as a process of sense activation, sense selection, and sense elaboration. In three experiments, subjects read texts presented by a rapid serial visual procedure and performed a lexical decision on visually presented targets that followed ambiguous prime words. When the target was a word, it was either an associate of the prime word, a probable inference suggested by the discourse, or an unrelated word. For associates, lexical decisions that related to either the appropriate or the inappropriate sense of the ambiguous word were generally facilitated at short (200-400 msec) prime-target stimulus onset asynchronies (SOAs). At longer SOAs, responses were faster to appropriate than to inappropriate associates. For the thematic inferences, there was no difference between these (appropriate) inferences and (inappropriate) control words at short SOAs. At long SOAs (1,000 and 1,500 msec), however, inference words were facilitated. The results are interpreted as consistent with a model of lexical processing in which sense activation functions independently of context. Discourse context effects, whether on sense selection (suppression of inappropriate associates) or on sense elaboration (creation of inferences), are seen as postlexical.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)283-298
Number of pages16
JournalMemory & Cognition
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1988

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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