Distributional analysis of semantic interference in picture naming


In picture-word interference experiments, participants name pictures (e.g., of a cat) while trying to ignore distractor words. Mean response time (RT) is typically longer with semantically related distractor words (e.g., dog) than with unrelated words (e.g., shoe), called semantic interference. Previous research has examined the RT distributional characteristics of distractor effects by performing ex-Gaussian analyses, which reveal whether effects are present in the normal part of the distribution (the $\mu$ parameter), its long right tail (the $\tau$ parameter), or both. One previous study linked the semantic interference effect selectively to the distribution tail. In the present study, we replicated the semantic interference effect in the mean picture naming RTs. Distributional analysis of the RTs and those of a previous study revealed that semantic interference was present in both $\mu$ and $\tau$. These results provide evidence that the effect is not selectively linked to the $\tau$ parameter, and they warn against any simple one-to-one mapping between semantic interference and distributional parameters.

In: Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 70 (4), 782-792