119 | The Role of Context in Semantic Ambiguity Processing: Insights From Behavioral and Pupillometry Measures

Cognition, Behavior, and Memory

Author: Julieta Laurino | Email: julilaurino@gmail.com

Julieta Laurino , Ana Traverso , Dulce Jurado , Laura Kaczer

1° Instituto de Fisiología, Biología Molecular y Neurociencias (IFIByNE – UBA – CONICET)

Semantic ambiguity, the phenomenon of words having multiple meanings, represents a potential challenge for human language performance. It has been proposed that the frequency of each meaning and the immediate sentence context provide primary disambiguating cues. However, little is known about the effect of the context seconds to minutes before an ambiguous word appears (such as the conversation topic). Moreover, it is not yet clear whether integrating information from the context optimizes the disambiguation process by reducing the associated neurocognitive demands. First, we evaluated whether it is possible to bias the interpretation of an ambiguous word by previously presenting a context related to one of its meanings (n=47). We further adapted this protocol to register pupil dilation while performing the behavioural task as a measure of neurocognitive demand (n = 16). Results showed that ambiguous words were processed faster (p<0.0001), more accurately (p=0.036) and with reduced neurocognitive demands (i.e., smaller pupil dilation) (p=0.037) when preceded by a context related to one of their meanings. Taken together, the results of this study suggest that adults’ lexical-semantic representations can be updated based on their most recent experiences. Importantly, semantic context seems to guide neurocognitive resources and thus optimizes the disambiguating process, as revealed by pupillometric data.