Locus of semantic interference in picture naming: Evidence from dual-task performance


Disagreement exists regarding the functional locus of semantic interference of distractor words in picture naming. This effect is a cornerstone of modern psycholinguistic models of word production, which assume that it arises in lexical response-selection. However, recent evidence from studies of dual-task performance suggests a locus in perceptual or conceptual processing, prior to lexical response-selection. In these studies, participants manually responded to a tone and named a picture while ignoring a written distractor word. The stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA) between tone and pictureword stimulus was manipulated. Semantic interference in naming latencies was present at long tone pre-exposure SOAs, but reduced or absent at short SOAs. Under the prevailing structural or strategic response-selection bottleneck and central capacity sharing models of dual-task performance, the underadditivity of the effects of SOA and stimulus type suggests that semantic interference emerges before lexical response-selection. However, in more recent studies, additive effects of SOA and stimulus type were obtained. Here, we examined the discrepancy in results between these studies in 6 experiments in which we systematically manipulated various dimensions on which these earlier studies differed, including tasks, materials, stimulus types, and SOAs. In all our experiments, additive effects of SOA and stimulus type on naming latencies were obtained. These results strongly suggest that the semantic interference effect arises after perceptual and conceptual processing, during lexical response-selection or later. We discuss several theoretical alternatives with respect to their potential to account for the discrepancy between the present results and other studies showing underadditivity.

In: Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 40 (1), 147-165