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The effect of working memory load on semantic illusions: What the phonological loop and central executive have to contribute

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When asked how many animals of each kind Moses took on the Ark, most people respond with “two” despite the substituted name (Moses for Noah) in the question. Possible explanations for semantic illusions appear to be related to processing limitations such as those of working memory. Indeed, individual working memory capacity has an impact upon how sentences containing substitutions are processed. This experiment examined further the role of working memory in the occurrence of semantic illusions using a dual-task working memory load approach. Participants verified statements while engaging in either articulatory suppression or random number generation. Secondary task type had a significant effect on semantic illusion rate, but only when comparing the control condition to the two dual-task conditions. Furthermore, secondary task performance in the random number generation condition declined, suggesting a tradeoff between tasks. Response time analyses also showed a different pattern of processing across the conditions. The findings suggest that the phonological loop plays a role in representing semantic illusion sentences coherently and in monitoring for details, while the role of the central executive is to assist gist-processing of sentences. This usually efficient strategy leads to error in the case of semantic illusions.
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Keywords: Dual-task performance; Gist-processing; Semantic illusions; Working memory

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Psychology, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK

Publication date: November 1, 2012

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