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We first assessed the extent to which abstract images are systematically linked to abstract words. The highest scoring picture-word pairs 52 out of ; M rating : 6. On each trial participants indicated picture-word relatedness related or unrelated by executing a binary-choice button press. Given that RTs reflect all processes that lead to a response, including stimulus identification and response production, they rarely correlate with N amplitude which indexes semantic processing more directly Grand average ERP waveforms.

The grey shaded area indicates the N with a more negative amplitude elicited by unrelated than related words. Our interpretation of these observations was further supported by a time-frequency decomposition of single trial EEG data from which the phase-locked ERP data was removed Log transformed event-related spectral perturbations of the related left and unrelated right words. Finally, to assess whether the pictures elicited the same meaning across different groups of participants we used the scores obtained in the initial rating experiment to predict item-by-item behavioral and N responses in the semantic priming experiment.

Thus, reaction times were fastest for scores at the extremes of the semantic rating scale and slowest for the items rated in the middle of the scale, likely reflecting degrees of certainty and uncertainty as to the relatedness of given picture-word pairs. Scatter plots with best-fitting fitted regressions. Here we set out to test the consistency of semantic relatedness effects in the under-studied case of abstract images. To assess the generic value of abstract images-concepts links, we collected ratings in two independent groups of participants as well as objective measures of semantic priming derived from the well-established N effect.

Critically, both this priming effect, and the associated decrease in N mean amplitude, correlated with the degree of relatedness established in the preliminary norming procedure. These results show that untimed and explicit relatedness ratings of pictures and labels not only predict how fast different groups of individuals provide a dichotomous rating of abstract picture-word pairs, they also predict the amplitude of brain responses that index meaning processing.

To our knowledge, these findings provide the first tangible evidence that abstract images relate consistently to abstract concepts conveyed by words and that they can activate similar such representations across different viewers. It is an open question whether our findings generalize to any type of abstract image given that style and origin were essentially random.

ERPs do not allow measurement of brain responses elicited by an elaborate description of a painting. Thus, we were limited in the choice of single words that would effectively capture the meaning of an abstract image. This being said, our results can be likened to observations made in the case of music perception where music extracts have been shown to elicit similar semantic representations across listeners 28 , We tentatively conclude that concepts activated in long-term memory when one perceives abstract pictures are not purely idiosyncratic to the observer and, on the contrary, have generic relevance.

This however, should not imply that individual differences in the appraisal of abstract images are negligible or even modest, since personal experience and aesthetic judgment likely interact in complex ways during image processing 1 , In sum, our findings make a compelling case for the idea that abstract images relate to abstract words similarly to the way in which concrete pictures relate to concrete words. This finding may account for the fact that abstract images and textures are widely used in advertising, communication media, and virtual environments, conveying much more it seems than mere aesthetic effects devoid of meaning.

Online questionnaires were made available to Psychology students at Stirling University, UK for course credits as part of their educational program.

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The same participant pool was used for the ERP experiment with no participant partaking in more than one experiment. A total of 26 students completed the first questionnaire and 48 the second one. Twenty native English students with no known reading or language impairment participated in the ERP experiment.

One dataset was excluded from analysis due to a programming error and one other dataset was excluded due to a self-reported history of brain injury. The remaining 18 participants, 12 female, mean age All three experiments 2 rating procedures and the ERP experiment were performed in accordance with relevant guidelines and regulations and approved by the ethics committee of Stirling University. Informed consent was obtained from all participants before the start of the experiment. We selected 52 images of abstract paintings from online databases and associated these by experimenter consensus with abstract verbal labels See supplementary materials for the stimulus list.

These picture—word pairs were presented online using Qualtrix, www. Picture-word pairs with a score of 6 and higher than 52 out of were re-paired to create unrelated picture-word pairs. These ratings were subsequently used for the regression of the item RTs and N amplitude in the main experiment. Internet links of questionnaires were distributed to 1 st - and 2 nd -year Psychology undergraduate students at Stirling University.

They could fill in the questionnaire at their own pace and received a study token for participation. The data of each questionnaire were collected over three days. The ERP experiment took place in a sound-attenuated testing booth.

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Participants were told that they could freely scan the whole picture, but that they should focus on a centrally placed fixation cross presented after disappearance of the image. Response side was counterbalanced across participants and trials were presented in random order.

There were short breaks between each of the three 5-minute blocks. EEG activity was recorded between 0. Eye blinks were mathematically corrected using Scan 4. The same interval and electrodes were used for the item analysis. For the item regression analyses the relatedness ratings obtained from the online questionnaire were used to predict item RT and N amplitude of the main experiment.

Lasher, M. The cognitive basis of aesthetic experience. Leonardo 16 , — Leder, H. A model of aesthetic appreciation and aesthetic judgments. British journal of psychology 95 , — Pelowski, M. A model of art perception, evaluation and emotion in transformative aesthetic experience. New Ideas in Psychology 29 , 80—97 Brown, C.

The Astonishment of Words

The processing nature of the N Evidence from masked priming. Journal of cognitive neuroscience 5 , 34—44 Luck, S. Word meanings can be accessed but not reported during the attentional blink. Nature , The English language has an abundance of near synonyms with different connotations, usages or levels of formality that few other languages possess. It does happen that a language has no word at all for a particular concept. This obviously lack the nuance between the English 'privacy', meaning being away from the observation of others to avoid disturbance usually alone , and 'intimacy', which means being very close to someone.

Here are just a few examples of the great diversity of near synonyms in English that add nuances. Synonyms that had a French equivalent were removed from the list below e.

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Words with the same root and the same original meaning have sometimes acquired a quite different modern usage, or even a completely different meaning. French usually kept a single word with a broad meaning covering all the usages, whereas English selected or developed another word from the same root, or used both the Germanic and Latin words to differentiate them.

For example, it is impossible to say in French "you can tame a lion, but not domesticate it" because the words "tame" and "domesticate" are the same domestiquer. In a more extreme manner, French language does not make the difference between 'excuse' and 'apology', so for a French speaker it would not make sense to say that someone expect an apology rather than an excuse or the other way around.

English tends to differentiate animal species more accurately than French. Some words basically mean the same, but have a different usage.

You could say "give money to charity", but the proper usage is "donate". Likewise, the usage is to say that a poem is profound, but a lake is deep. Sometimes the extra English word s add little or no nuance. In that case the word with a Latin root usually more formal than the one with a Germanic root. Some very common words in English cannot be translated by just one word in French and require a phrase or expression instead. Introduction 2. English nuances lacking in French 3.

Single French word vs multiple English words with different meanings 4. Single French word vs multiple English words with different usages 5. To investigate the issue of modularity, studies of adult language understanding ask when different sources of information are used in processing sentences that have more than one possible interpretation. It is in the nature of language that many sentences are ambiguous. Yet, ordinarily, by the time a person reaches the end of an ambiguous sentence, only a single interpretation remains, the one that is consistent with the conversational context.

In the absence of any context, e. Adopting a modular conception of the mind, some researchers contend that the preference for one interpretation over its competitors is initially decided on linguistic grounds syntactic and semantic structure ; real-world knowledge comes into play only later, on this view. The availability of different sources of information is difficult to determine, however, because the resolution of ambiguity takes place as a sentence is being read or heard, rather than after all the words have been taken in.

In order to establish the time-course of various linguistic and nonlinguistic operations involved in language understanding, sentence processing is often measured in real time, by recording the movements of the eyes in reading, for example. The jury is still out on the question of the modularity of mind in language processing, but there are some suggestive research findings, and few researchers in the area would deny the contribution of linguistic knowledge in the process.


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Another source of evidence bearing on the modularity hypothesis comes from studies of language breakdown. Language loss, or aphasia, is not an all-or-nothing affair; when a particular area of the brain is affected, the result is a complex pattern of retention and loss, often involving both language production and comprehension. The complex of symptoms can be strikingly similar for different people with the same affected area of the brain.

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Research in aphasia asks: Which aspects of linguistic knowledge are lost and which are spared? The fact that language loss is not always associated with a corresponding loss of pragmatic knowledge supports the modularity hypothesis, bringing the findings of research on aphasia in line with those from the study of child and adult language understanding. Search form Search. The Language Instinct Even outside the laboratory, one can make many interesting observations that one can make about the course of language development.