ABSTRACT We used a sentence-picture matching task to demonstrate that heuristics can influence language comprehension. Interpretation of quantifier scope ambiguous sentences such as Every kid climbed a tree was investigated. Such sentences are ambiguous with respect to the number of trees inferred; either several trees were climbed or just one. The availability of the NOUN VERB NOUN (N-V-N) heuristic, e.g., KID CLIMB TREE, should contribute to the interpretation of how many trees were climbed. Specifically, we hypothesized that number choices for these stimuli would be predicted by choices previously made to corresponding (full) sentences. 45 participants were instructed to treat N-V-N triplets such as KID CLIMB TREE as telegrams and select a picture, regarding the quantity (“several” vs. “one”) associated with tree. Results confirmed that plural responses to quantifier scope ambiguous sentences significantly predict increased plural judgments in the picture-matching task. This result provides empirical evidence that the N-V-N heuristic, via conceptual event knowledge, can influence sentence interpretation. Furthermore, event knowledge must include the quantity of participants in the event (especially in terms of “several” vs. “one”). These findings are consistent with our model of language comprehension functioning as “Heuristic first, algorithmic second.” Furthermore, results are consistent with judgment and decision making in other cognitive domains.
Cite this paper
Dwivedi, V. , Goertz, K. and Selvanayagam, J. (2018) Heuristics in Language Comprehension. Journal of Behavioral and Brain Science, 8, 430-446. doi: 10.4236/jbbs.2018.87027.
 Bever, T.G. (1970) The Cognitive Basis for Linguistic Structure. In: Hayes, J.R., Ed., Cognition and the Development of Language, Wiley & Sons, New York, 279-362.
 Dwivedi, V.D. (2013) Interpreting Quantifier Scope Ambiguity: Evidence of Heuristic First, Algorithmic Second Processing. PLoS ONE, 8, 1-20. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0081461
 Kahneman, D. (2011) Thinking, Fast and Slow. Anchor Canada, Toronto.
 Dwivedi, V.D., Phillips, N.A., Einagel, S. and Baum, S.R. (2010) The Neural Underpinnings of Semantic Ambiguity and Anaphora. Brain Research, 1311, 93-109. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brainres.2009.09.102
 Bott, O. and Schlotterbeck, F. (2015) The Processing Domain of Scope Interaction. Journal of Semantics, 32, 39-92. https://doi.org/10.1093/jos/fft015
 Filik, R., Paterson, K.B. and Liversedge, S.P. (2004) Processing Doubly Quantified Sentences: Evidence from Eye Movements. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 11, 953-959. https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03196727
 Paterson, K.B., Filik, R. and Liversedge, S.P. (2008) Competition during the Processing of Quantifier Scope Ambiguities: Evidence from Eye Movements during Reading. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 61, 459-473. https://doi.org/10.1080/17470210701255317
 Raffray, C.N. and Pickering, M.J. (2010) How Do People Construct Logical Form during Language Comprehension? Psychological Science, 21, 1090-1097. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797610375446
 Patson, N.D. and Warren, T. (2010) Evidence for Distributivity Effects in Comprehension. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition, 36, 782-789. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0018783
 Anderson, C. (2004) The Structure and Real-Time Comprehension of Quantifier Scope Ambiguity. Ph.D. Dissertation, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.
 Tunstall, L. (1998) The Interpretation of Quantifiers: Semantics & Processing. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA.
 May, R. (1985) Logical Form: Its Structure and Derivation. MIT Press, Cambridge.
 Russell, B. (1905) On Denoting. Mind, 14, 479-493. https://doi.org/10.1093/mind/XIV.4.479
 Kurtzman, H.S. and MacDonald, M.C. (1993) Resolution of Quantifier Scope Ambiguities. Cognition, 48, 243-279. https://doi.org/10.1016/0010-0277(93)90042-T
 Rumelhart, D. (1980) Schemata: The Building Blocks of Cognition. In: Spiro, R., Bruce, B. and Brewer, W., Eds., Theoretical Issues in Reading Comprehension, Erlbaum Associates, Mahway, 33-58.
 Van Dijk, T.A. and Kintsch, W. (1983) Strategies of Discourse Comprehension. Academic Press, New York, 413.
 Schank, R.C. and Abelson, R.P. (1977) Scripts, Plans, Goals and Understanding. Erlbaum Associates, Mahway.
 Townsend, D.J. and Bever, T.G. (2001) Sentence Comprehension: The Integration of Rules and Habits. MIT Press, Cambridge.
 Altmann, G.T.M. and Kamide, Y. (1999) Incremental Interpretation at Verbs: Restricting the Domain of Subsequent Reference. Cognition, 73, 247-264. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0010-0277(99)00059-1
 Ferretti, T.R., Kutas, M. and McRae, K. (2007) Verb Aspect and the Activation of Event Knowledge. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition, 33, 182-196. https://doi.org/10.1037/0278-73184.108.40.206
 Graesser, A.C., Singer, M. and Trabasso, T. (1994) Constructing Inferences during Narrative Text Comprehension. Psychological Review, 101, 371-395. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.101.3.371
 McRae, K., Spivey-Knowlton, M.J. and Tanenhaus, M.K. (1998) Modeling the Influence of Themaitc Fit (and Other Constraints) in On-Line Sentence Comprehension. Journal of Memory and Language, 38, 283-312. https://doi.org/10.1006/jmla.1997.2543
 Ferreira, F. (2003) The Misinterpretation of Non-canonical Sentences. Cognitive Psychology, 47, 164-203. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0010-0285(03)00005-7
 Gigerenzer, G. (2000) Adaptive Thinking: Rationality in the Real World. Oxford University Press, New York.
 Chwilla, D.J. and Kolk, H.H.J. (2005) Accessing World Knowledge: Evidence from N400 and Reaction Time Priming. Cognitive Brain Research, 25, 589-606. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cogbrainres.2005.08.011
 Kutas, M. and Hillyard, S. (1980) Reading Senseless Sentences: Brain Potentials Reflect Semantic Incongruity. Science, 207, 203-205. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.7350657
 Zwaan, R.A. (1999) Situation Models: The Mental Leap into Imagined Worlds. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 8, 15-18. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8721.00004
 Zwaan, R.A. and Radvansky, G. (1998) Situation Models in Language Comprehension and Memory. Psychological Bulletin, 123, 162-185. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.123.2.162
 Dabrowska, E. (2010) Naive v. Expert Intuitions: An Empirical Study of Acceptability Judgments. Linguistic Review, 27, 1-23. https://doi.org/10.1515/tlir.2010.001
 Caramazza, A. and Zurif, E.B. (1976) Dissociation of Algorithmic and Heuristic Processes in Language Comprehension: Evidence from Aphasia. Brain and Language, 3, 572-582. https://doi.org/10.1016/0093-934X(76)90048-1
 Aaronson, D. and Ferres, S. (1984) Reading Strategies for Children and Adults: Some Empirical Evidence. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 23, 189-220. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0022-5371(84)90137-3
 Just, M.A., Carpenter, P.A. and Woolley, J.D. (1982) Paradigms and Processes in Reading Comprehension. Journal of Experimental Psychology General, 111, 228-238. https://doi.org/10.1037/0096-34220.127.116.11
 Ferreira, F. and Clifton, C. (1986) The Independence of Syntactic Processing. Journal of Memory and Language, 25, 348-368. https://doi.org/10.1016/0749-596X(86)90006-9
 Henik, A., Leibovich, T., Naparstek, S., Diesendruck, L. and Rubinsten, O. (2012) Quantities, Amounts, and the Numerical Core System. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 5, 186. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2011.00186
 Van Opstal, F., Santens, S. and Ansari, D. (2012) The Numerate Brain: Recent Findings and Theoretical Reviews on the Neurocognitive Foundations of Number Processing. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6, 2011-2012. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2012.00201
 Feigenson, L., Dehaene, S. and Spelke, E. (2004) Origins and Endpoints of the Core Systems of Number. Reply to Fias and Verguts. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8, 448-449. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2004.08.010
 Van Casteren, M. and Davis, M.H. (2006) Mix, a Program for Pseudorandomization. Behavior Research Methods, 38, 584-589. https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03193889
 Unsworth, N., Heitz, R.P., Schrock, J.C. and Engle, R.W. (2005) An Automated Version of the Operation Span Task. Behavior Research Methods, 37, 498-505. https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03192720
 Psychology Software Tools (2006) E-Prime (Version 1.2). Psychology Software Tools, Inc., Pittsburgh.
 IBM Corp. (2011) SPSS (Version 20.0). IBM Corp., Armonk.
 R Core Team (2013) R: A Language and Environment for Statistical Computing (Version 3.1.0). R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna.
 Bates, D., Machler, M., Bolker, B. and Walker, S. (2015) Fitting Linear Mixed-Effects Models Using lme4. Journal of Statisti-cal Software, 67, 1-48. https://doi.org/10.18637/jss.v067.i01
 Kuznetsova, A., Brockhoff, P.B. and Christensen, R.H.B. (2016) Tests in Linear Mixed Effects Models. R Package Version, 2.
 Jaeger, T.F. (2008) Categorical Data Analysis: Away from ANOVAs (Transformation or Not) and towards Logit Mixed Models. Journal of Memory and Language, 59, 434-446. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jml.2007.11.007
 Ferretti, T.R., McRae, K. and Hatherell, A. (2001) Integrating Verbs, Situa-tion Schemas, and Thematic Role Concepts. Journal of Memory and Language, 44, 516-547. https://doi.org/10.1006/jmla.2000.2728
 Caplan, D., Hildebrandt, N. and Waters, G.S. (1994) Interaction of Verb Selectional Restrictions, Noun Animacy and Syntactic Form in Sentence Processing. Language and Cognitive Processes, 9, 549-585. https://doi.org/10.1080/01690969408402131
 Christianson, K., Hollingworth, A., Halliwell, J.F. and Ferreira, F. (2001) Thematic Roles Assigned along the Garden Path Linger. Cognitive Psychology, 42, 368-407. https://doi.org/10.1006/cogp.2001.0752
 Ferreira, F. and Patson, N.D. (2007) The “Good Enough” Approach to Language Comprehension. Language and Linguistics Compass, 1, 71-83. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-818X.2007.00007.x
 Fodor, J.A. (1983) The Modularity of Mind. MIT Press, Cambridge.
 Muggeo, V.M.R. (2003) Estimating Regression Models with Unknown Break-Points. Statistics in Medicine, 22, 3055-3071. https://doi.org/10.1002/sim.1545
 Muggeo, V.M.R. (2008) Segmented: An R Package to Fit Regression Models with Broken-Line Relationships. R News, 8, 20-25.
 Brysbaert, M. and New, B. (2009) Moving beyond Kucera and Francis: A Critical Evaluation of Current Word Frequency Norms and the Introduction of a New and Improved Word Frequency Measure for American English. Behavior Research Methods, 41, 977-990. https://doi.org/10.3758/BRM.41.4.977
 Magnuson, J.S., Dixon, J.A., Tanenhaus, M.K. and Aslin, R.N. (2007) The Dynamics of Lexical Competition during Spoken Word Recognition. Cognitive Science, 31, 133-156. https://doi.org/10.1080/03640210709336987