Changes in activation levels with negation

J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 1989 Jul;15(4):633-42. doi: 10.1037//0278-7393.15.4.633.


Three experiments investigated the effects of negation during on-line language processing. It was hypothesized that negation of a noun (e.g., no bread) would affect the activation level of the mental representation of that noun. Experiment 1 manipulated the location of the negation in sentences that were followed by a probe recognition task. Subjects were slower to indicate that a probe had been in the sentence when the probe corresponded to a negated noun. Experiment 2 replicated these results with a probe naming task. Experiment 3 replicated the result that reading the phrase no bread inhibits responses to bread in the probe task but found no evidence of inhibition of the response to an associate probe, such as butter. The results of these three studies suggest that negation affects the discourse focus of a noun phrase, and hence the activation level of its representation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arousal*
  • Attention*
  • Concept Formation
  • Humans
  • Paired-Associate Learning
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Reaction Time
  • Reading*
  • Semantics*