How a question context aids word production: Evidence from the picture-word interference paradigm

Zeshu Shao* (Corresponding Author), Joost Rommers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
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Difficulties in saying the right word at the right time arise at least in part because multiple response candidates are simultaneously activated in the speaker’s mind. The word selection process has been simulated using the picture-word interference task, in which participants name pictures while ignoring a superimposed written distractor word. However, words are usually produced in context, in the service of achieving a communicative goal. Two experiments addressed the questions whether context influences word production, and if so, how. We embedded the picture-word interference task in a dialogue-like setting, in which participants heard a question and named a picture as an answer to the question while ignoring a superimposed distractor word. The conversational context was either constraining or nonconstraining towards the answer. Manipulating the relationship between the picture name and the distractor, we focused on two core processes of word production: retrieval of semantic representations (Experiment 1) and phonological encoding (Experiment 2). The results of both experiments showed that naming RTs were shorter when preceded by constraining contexts as compared to nonconstraining contexts. Critically, constraining contexts decreased the effect of semantically related distractors, but not the effect of phonologically related distractors. This suggests that conversational contexts can help speakers with aspects of the meaning of to-be-produced words, but phonological encoding processes still need to be performed as usual.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-173
Number of pages9
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number2
Early online date29 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2020

Bibliographical note

We thank Nikki van Gasteren and Laudy van den Heuvel for their assistance with material preparation and data collection.

The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship and/or publication of this article: JR was partially supported by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) Veni grant 275-89-032.


  • conversational context
  • semantic interference
  • phonological facilitation
  • word production
  • Conversational context


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