Processing of lexical ambiguities: a comment on Milberg, Blumstein, and Dworetzky (1987)

Hagoort, P. (1989). Processing of lexical ambiguities: a comment on Milberg, Blumstein, and Dworetzky (1987). Brain and Language, 36, 335-348. doi:10.1016/0093-934X(89)90070-9.
In a study by Milberg, Blumstein, and Dworetzky (1987), normal control subjects and Wernicke's and Broca's aphasics performed a lexical decision task on the third element of auditorily presented triplets of words with either a word or a nonword as target. In three of the four types of word triplets, the first and the third words were related to one or both meanings of the second word, which was semantically ambiguous. The fourth type of word triplet consisted of three unrelated, unambiguous words, functioning as baseline. Milberg et al. (1987) claim that the results for their control subjects are similar to those reported by Schvaneveldt, Meyer, and Becker's original study (1976) with the same prime types, and so interpret these as evidence for a selective lexical access of the different meanings of ambiguous words. It is argued here that Milberg et al. only partially replicate the Schvaneveldt et al. results. Moreover, the results of Milberg et al. are not fully in line with the selective access hypothesis adopted. Replication of the Milberg et al. (1987) study with Dutch materials, using both a design without and a design with repetition of the same target words for the same subjects led to the original pattern as reported by Schvaneveldt et al. (1976). In the design with four separate presentations of the same target word, a strong repetition effect was found. It is therefore argued that the discrepancy between the Milberg et al. results on the one hand, and the Schvaneveldt et al. results on the other, might be due to the absence of a control for repetition effects in the within-subject design used by Milberg et al. It is concluded that this makes the results for both normal and aphasic subjects in the latter study difficult to interpret in terms of a selective access model for normal processing.
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