According to experiential theories of language comprehension, perceptual information plays an essential role when word meanings are accessed. We conducted four experiments to investigate how different types of perceptual information such as colour and shape are combined during word access. One possibility is that the colour and shape of a word's referent are activated independently from one another and are combined in an additive manner. Alternatively, words might activate perceptual representations via a multiplicative integration of colour and shape. Experiment 1 established that participants follow a multiplicative similarity rule when they judge the similarity of schematic pictures to actual fruits and vegetables. In Experiments 2 to 4, participants performed a classification task, a lexical decision task, or a word-naming task on names of fruits and vegetables that were superimposed on a background picture. Responses were facilitated only when both colour and shape of the picture matched the word's referents. Response times were associated negatively with mean similarity ratings and the consistency of these ratings obtained in the first experiment. These results suggest a multiplicative integration of different types of perceptual information during word access.

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The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Richter, T., & Zwaan, R. (2010). Integration of perceptual information in word access. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 63(1), 81–107. doi:10.1080/17470210902829563