Ryzhova, Margarita; Demberg, Vera

Processing particularized pragmatic inferences under load

Proceedings of the 42nd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (CogSci 2020), 2020.

A long-standing question in language understanding is whether pragmatic inferences are effortful or whether they happen seamlessly without measurable cognitive effort. We here measure the strength of particularized pragmatic inferences in a setting with high vs. low cognitive load. Cognitive load is induced by a secondary dot tracking task.

If this type of pragmatic inference comes at no cognitive processing cost, inferences should be similarly strong in both the high and the low load condition. If they are effortful, we expect a smaller effect size in the dual tasking condition. Our results show that participants who have difficulty in dual tasking (as evidenced by incorrect answers to comprehension questions) exhibit a smaller pragmatic effect when they were distracted with a secondary task in comparison to the single task condition. This finding supports the idea that pragmatic inferences are effortful.