Temporal dynamics of activation of thematic and functional knowledge during conceptual processing of manipulable artifacts

Academic Article


  • The current research aimed at specifying the activation time course of different types of semantic information during object conceptual processing and the effect of context on this time course. We distinguished between thematic and functional knowledge and the specificity of functional similarity. Two experiments were conducted with healthy older adults using eye tracking in a word-to-picture matching task. The time course of gaze fixations was used to assess activation of distractor objects during the identification of manipulable artifact targets (e.g., broom). Distractors were (a) thematically related (e.g., dustpan), (b) related by a specific function (e.g., vacuum cleaner), or (c) related by a general function (e.g., sponge). Growth curve analyses were used to assess competition effects when target words were presented in isolation (Experiment 1) and embedded in contextual sentences of different generality levels (Experiment 2). In the absence of context, there was earlier and shorter lasting activation of thematically related as compared to functionally related objects. The time course difference was more pronounced for general functions than specific functions. When contexts were provided, functional similarities that were congruent with context generality level increased in salience with earlier activation of those objects. Context had little impact on thematic activation time course. These data demonstrate that processing a single manipulable artifact concept implicitly activates thematic and functional knowledge with different time courses and that context speeds activation of context-congruent functional similarity. © 2012 American Psychological Association.
  • Authors

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Kalénine S; Mirman D; Middleton EL; Buxbaum LJ
  • Start Page

  • 1274
  • End Page

  • 1295
  • Volume

  • 38
  • Issue

  • 5