Figure 116

The time course of inhibitory and facilitatory effects of priming as a function of whether or not the target word was related semantically to the prime, and of whether or not the target word belonged to the expected category. Data from Neely (1977).

We have seen that word identification is affected by context. What is more controversial is whether context effects occur before or after the individual has gained lexical access to the stored information contained in the internal lexicon. Neely (1977) found that semantic or associative priming had a very rapid effect on word identification, suggesting (but not proving) that this effect of context occurs pre-lexically. He also found that the effects of participants' expectancies were slow to develop. This finding suggests that these expectancies (and probably sentence context as well) affect post-lexical processing.

Lucas (1999) carried out a meta-analysis of 17 studies focusing on context effects in lexical access. In most of these studies, each context sentence contained an ambiguous word (e.g., "The man spent the entire day fishing on the bank"). The ambiguous word was immediately followed by a target on which a naming or lexical decision task was performed. The target word was either appropriate (e.g., "river") or inappropriate (e.g., "money") to the meaning of the ambiguous word in the sentence context. Overall, the 17 studies in the meta-analysis, "showed a small effect of context on lexical access of about two-tenths of a standard deviation: the appropriate interpretation of a word consistently showed greater priming than the inappropriate interpretation" (Lucas, 1999, p. 394). The findings from naming and lexical decision tasks were very similar. In view of the different limitations of these two tasks (see earlier), this similarity perhaps offers some reassurance that the findings are valid.

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