A novel multi-word paradigm for investigating semantic context effects in language production

PLoS One. 2020 Apr 10;15(4):e0230439. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0230439. eCollection 2020.


Semantic context modulates precision and speed of language production. Using different experimental designs including the Picture-Word-Interference (PWI) paradigm, it has consistently been shown that categorically related distractor words (e.g., cat) inhibit retrieval of the target picture name (dog). Here we introduce a novel variant of the PWI paradigm in which we present 8 words prior to a to be named target picture. Within this set, the number of words categorically related was varied between 3 and 5, and the picture to be named was either related or unrelated to the respective category. To disentangle interacting effects of semantic context we combined different naming paradigms manipulating the number of competitors and assessing the effect of repeated naming instances. Evaluating processing of the cohort by eye-tracking provided us with a metric of the (implicit) recognition of the semantic cohort. Results replicate the interference effect in that overall naming of pictures categorically related to the distractor set was slower compared to unrelated pictures. However, interference did not increase with increasing number of distractors. Tracking this effect across naming repetitions, we found that interference is prominent at the first naming instance of every picture only, whereby it is stable across distractor conditions, but dissipates across the experiment. Regarding eye-tracking our data show that participants fixated longer on semantically related items, indicating the identification of the lexico-semantic cohort. Our findings confirm the validity of the novel paradigm and indicate that besides interference during first exposure, repeated exposure to the semantic context may facilitate picture naming and counteract lexical interference.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attention
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Semantics*

Grant support

During the preparation of this paper, CvS was funded by the Berlin School of Mind and Brain and the German National Academic Foundation. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.