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16-06-2015 | Original Article | Uitgave 4/2016

Psychological Research 4/2016

Impact of action primes on implicit processing of thematic and functional similarity relations: evidence from eye-tracking

Psychological Research > Uitgave 4/2016
Ewa Pluciennicka, Yannick Wamain, Yann Coello, Solène Kalénine


The aim of this study was to specify the role of action representations in thematic and functional similarity relations between manipulable artifact objects. Recent behavioral and neurophysiological evidence indicates that while they are all relevant for manipulable artifact concepts, semantic relations based on thematic (e.g., saw–wood), specific function similarity (e.g., saw–axe), and general function similarity (e.g., saw–knife) are differently processed, and may relate to different levels of action representation. Point-light displays of object-related actions previously encoded at the gesture level (e.g., “sawing”) or at the higher level of action representation (e.g., “cutting”) were used as primes before participants identified target objects (e.g., saw) among semantically related and unrelated distractors (e.g., wood, feather, piano). Analysis of eye movements on the different objects during target identification informed about the amplitude and the timing of implicit activation of the different semantic relations. Results showed that action prime encoding impacted the processing of thematic relations, but not that of functional similarity relations. Semantic competition with thematic distractors was greater and earlier following action primes encoded at the gesture level compared to action primes encoded at higher level. As a whole, these findings highlight the direct influence of action representations on thematic relation processing, and suggest that thematic relations involve gesture-level representations rather than intention-level representations.

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