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Heuristics in Language Comprehension

DOI: 10.4236/jbbs.2018.87027, PP. 430-446

Keywords: Conceptual Event Knowledge, Language, Quantifier Scope, Scripts, Heuristics

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We used a sentence-picture matching task to demonstrate that heuristics can influence language comprehension. Interpretation of quantifier scope ambiguous sentences such as Every kid climbed?a tree was investigated. Such sentences are ambiguous with respect to the number of trees inferred; either several trees were climbed or just one. The availability of the NOUN VERB NOUN (N-V-N) heuristic, e.g., KID CLIMB TREE, should contribute to the interpretation of how many trees were climbed. Specifically, we hypothesized that number choices for these stimuli would be predicted by choices previously made to corresponding (full) sentences. 45 participants were instructed to treat N-V-N triplets such as KID CLIMB TREE as telegrams and select a picture, regarding the quantity (“several” vs. “one”) associated with tree. Results confirmed that plural responses to quantifier scope ambiguous sentences significantly predict increased plural judgments in the picture-matching task. This result provides empirical evidence that the N-V-N heuristic, via conceptual event knowledge, can influence sentence interpretation. Furthermore, event knowledge must include the quantity of participants in the event (especially in terms of “several” vs. “one”). These findings are consistent with our model of language comprehension functioning as “Heuristic first, algorithmic second.” Furthermore, results are consistent with judgment and decision making in other cognitive domains.


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