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The mental representation of living and nonliving things: Differential weighting and interactivity of sensorial and non‐sensorial features

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Warrington and colleagues (Warrington & McCarthy, 1983, 1987; Warrington & Shallice, 1984) claimed that sensorial and functional-associative ( FA ) features are differentially important in determining the meaning of living things ( LT ) and nonliving things ( NLT ). The first aim of the present study was to evaluate this hypothesis through two different access tasks: feature generation (Experiment 1) and cued recall (Experiment 2). The results of both experiments provided consistent empirical support for Warrington and colleagues' assumption. The second aim of the present study was to test a new differential interactivity hypothesis that combines Warrington and colleagues' assumption with the notion of a higher number of intercorrelations and hence of a stronger connectivity between sensorial and non-sensorial features for LT s than for NLT s. This hypothesis was motivated by previous reports of an uncrossed interaction between domain ( LT s vs NLT s) and attribute type (sensorial vs FA ) in, for example, a feature verification task (Laws, Humber, Ramsey, & McCarthy, 1995): while FA attributes are verified faster than sensorial attributes for NLT s, no difference is observed for LT s. We replicated and generalised this finding using several feature verification tasks on both written words and pictures (Experiment 3), including in conditions aimed at minimising the intervention of priming biases and strategic or mnemonic processes (Experiment 4). The whole set of results suggests that both privileged relations between features and categories, and the differential importance of intercorrelations between features as a function of category, modulate access to semantic features.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Université Libre de Bruxelles and Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique, Belgium

Publication date: February 1, 2005

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