Rabs, Elisabeth; Drenhaus, Heiner; Delogu, Francesca; Crocker, Matthew W.

Reading between the lines: The influence of script knowledge on on-line comprehension

29th CUNY conference on Human Sentence Processing, Events in Language and Cognition workshops, University of Florida, 2016.

While the influence of linguistic context on language processing has been extensively studied, less is known about the mental representation, structure and use of so-called script knowledge. Scripts are defined as a person’s knowledge about temporally and causally ordered sequences of events. They are often activated by linguistic context, but otherwise left implicit. In two ERP studies we examine how such non-linguistic event knowledge influences predictive language processing beyond what linguistic prediction or lexical priming alone can explain. Specifically, we find evidence for a decrease in N400 amplitude – known to reflect a word’s unexpectedness – for target nouns consistent with events that are expected according to script knowledge. Experiment 1 focuses on differentiating the relative contribution of lexical priming and script knowledge. Assuming the temporal structure of scripts is accessible and used for prediction, but does not alter any influence of priming, we inserted temporal shifts affecting the plausibility of the critical object. Results from Exp. 1 suggest that, even after a large temporal shift, a script-fitting object noun is still easier to process than a neutral one. One reason for this may be that the temporal shift used in Exp. 1 was not salient enough to completely deactivate a script. Experiment 2, for which data is currently being collected, explores how script knowledge is used when context provides two scripts. One script is active, and thus expected to influence processing of target nouns to a greater extent. By demonstrating that minimal linguistic material is sufficient to rapidly activate detailed script knowledge and make it accessible for language processing, we conclude that scripts provide an interesting method to investigate the interaction of non-linguistic knowledge in on-line comprehension. Specifically, drawing on aspects of their temporal and hierarchical structure we hope to further explore the role of implicit causal, temporal, and spatial relations in language comprehension.