Polysemy Advantage with Abstract But Not Concrete Words

Bernadet Jager, Alexandra A. Cleland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
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It is a robust finding that ambiguous words are recognized faster than unambiguous words. More recent studies (e.g., Rodd, Gaskell, & Marslen-Wilson, 2002) now indicate that this ambiguity advantage may in reality be a polysemy advantage: caused by related senses (polysemy) rather than unrelated meanings (homonymy). We report two lexical decision studies that investigated the effects of polysemy with new word sets. In both studies, polysemy was factorially manipulated while homonymy was controlled for. In Experiment 1, where the stimulus set consisted solely of concrete nouns, there was no effect of polysemy. However, in Experiment 2, where the stimulus set consisted of a mix of abstract nouns, verbs, and adjectives, there was a significant polysemy advantage. Together, these two studies strongly suggest that polysemy affects abstract but not concrete nouns. In addition, they rule out several alternative explanations for these polysemy effects, e.g., sense dominance, age-of-acquisition, familiarity, and semantic diversity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-156
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Psycholinguistic Research
Issue number1
Early online date6 Nov 2014
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2016


  • polysemy
  • concreteness
  • ambiguity advantage
  • mental lexicon
  • lexical decision
  • linear mixed-effects models


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