Effects of Plausibility on Structural Priming

, , and . Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 36 (2): 538--544 (2010)


We report a replication and extension of Ferreira (2003), in which it was observed that native adult English speakers misinterpret passive sentences that relate implausible but not impossible semantic relationships (e.g., The angler was caught by the fish) significantly more often than they do plausible passives or plausible or implausible active sentences. In the experiment reported here, participants listened to the same plausible and implausible passive and active sentences as in Ferreira (2003), answered comprehension questions, and then orally described line drawings of simple transitive actions. The descriptions were analyzed as a measure of structural priming (Bock, 1986). Question accuracy data replicated Ferreira (2003). Production data yielded an interaction: Passive descriptions were produced more often after plausible passives and implausible actives. We interpret these results as indicative of a language processor that proceeds along differentiated morphosyntactic and semantic routes. The processor may end up adjudicating between conflicting outputs from these routes by settling on a "good enough" representation that is not completely faithful to the input.

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