Perceived similarity as a window into representations of integrated sentence meaning

Arana, S., Hagoort, P., Schoffelen, J.-M., & Rabovsky, M. (2023). Perceived similarity as a window into representations of integrated sentence meaning. Behavior Research Methods. Advance online publication. doi:10.3758/s13428-023-02129-x.
When perceiving the world around us, we are constantly integrating pieces of information. The integrated experience consists of more than just the sum of its parts. For example, visual scenes are defined by a collection of objects as well as the spatial relations amongst them and sentence meaning is computed based on individual word semantic but also syntactic configuration. Having quantitative models of such integrated representations can help evaluate cognitive models of both language and scene perception. Here, we focus on language, and use a behavioral measure of perceived similarity as an approximation of integrated meaning representations. We collected similarity judgments of 200 subjects rating nouns or transitive sentences through an online multiple arrangement task. We find that perceived similarity between sentences is most strongly modulated by the semantic action category of the main verb. In addition, we show how non-negative matrix factorization of similarity judgment data can reveal multiple underlying dimensions reflecting both semantic as well as relational role information. Finally, we provide an example of how similarity judgments on sentence stimuli can serve as a point of comparison for artificial neural networks models (ANNs) by comparing our behavioral data against sentence similarity extracted from three state-of-the-art ANNs. Overall, our method combining the multiple arrangement task on sentence stimuli with matrix factorization can capture relational information emerging from integration of multiple words in a sentence even in the presence of strong focus on the verb.
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