The Cognitive Dynamics of Negated Sentence Verification
Article first published online: 5 JAN 2011
Copyright © 2011 Cognitive Science Society, Inc.
Volume 35, Issue 5, pages 983–996, July 2011
How to Cite
Dale, R. and Duran, N. D. (2011), The Cognitive Dynamics of Negated Sentence Verification. Cognitive Science, 35: 983–996. doi: 10.1111/j.1551-6709.2010.01164.x
- Issue published online: 7 JUL 2011
- Article first published online: 5 JAN 2011
- Received 27 January 2010; received in revised form 7 September 2010; accepted 23 September 2010
- Discrete and continuous processing;
- Sentence verification;
- Cognitive dynamics;
We explored the influence of negation on cognitive dynamics, measured using mouse-movement trajectories, to test the classic notion that negation acts as an operator on linguistic processing. In three experiments, participants verified the truth or falsity of simple statements, and we tracked the computer-mouse trajectories of their responses. Sentences expressing these facts sometimes contained a negation. Such negated statements could be true (e.g., “elephants are not small”) or false (e.g., “elephants are not large”). In the first experiment, as predicted by the classic notion of negation, we found that negation caused more discreteness in the mouse trajectory of a response. The second experiment induced a simple context for these statements, yet negation still increased discreteness in trajectories. A third experiment enhanced the pragmatic context of sentences, and the discreteness was substantially diminished, with one primary measure no longer significantly showing increased discreteness at all. Traditional linguistic theories predict rapid shifts in cognitive dynamics occur due to the nature of negation: It is an operator that reverses the truth or falsity of an interpretation. We argue that these results support both propositional and contextual accounts of negation present in the literature, suggesting that contextual factors are crucial for determining the kind of cognitive dynamics displayed. We conclude by drawing broader lessons about theories of cognition from the case of negation.