How big is big? Relative and absolute properties in memory

Lance J. Rips*, William Turnbull

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

28 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Previous studies of semantic memory have overlooked an important distinction among so-called "property statements". Statements with relative adjectives (e.g., Flamingos are big) imply a comparison to a standard or reference point associated with an immediate superordinate category (a flamingo is big for a bird), while the truth of statements with absolute adjectives (e.g., Flamingos are pink) is generally independent of such a standard. To examine the psychological consequences of this distinction, we asked subjects in Experiment 1 to verify sentences containing either relative or absolute adjectives embedded in either predicate-adjective (PA) constructions (e.g., A flamingo is big (pink)) or predicate-noun (PN) constructions (e.g. A flamingo is a big (pink) bird), where the predicate noun was the immediate superordinate. Reaction times (RTs) and errors for relative sentences decreased when the superordinate was specified, but remained constant for absolute sentences. These data also suggest that the truth value of relative sentences depends, not just on the superordinate, but also on a more global standard for everyday, human-oriented objects. Experiment 2 extends these results in showing that ratings of the truth of relative sentences are a function of the difference in size between an instance and its superordinate standard (e.g., between the size of a flamingo and that of an average bird) and the difference between the instance and the standard for everyday objects. Experiment 3 replicated these findings using reaction time as the dependent measure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)145-174
Number of pages30
JournalCognition
Volume8
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 1980

Fingerprint

Birds
Reaction Time
experiment
psychological consequences
Semantics
rating
semantics
Psychology
Experiment
Values
time
Absolute Adjective
Predicate Noun
Adjective
Rating
Psychological
Semantic Memory
Predicate Adjective
Truth Value

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

Cite this

Rips, Lance J. ; Turnbull, William. / How big is big? Relative and absolute properties in memory. In: Cognition. 1980 ; Vol. 8, No. 2. pp. 145-174.
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How big is big? Relative and absolute properties in memory. / Rips, Lance J.; Turnbull, William.

In: Cognition, Vol. 8, No. 2, 01.01.1980, p. 145-174.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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