Abteilung für Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft, Institut für Sprache und Information, Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, Germany; Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition, and Behaviour, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, Netherlands; Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, Netherlands. Electronic address: [Email]
In our interactions with people and objects in the world around us, as well as in communicating our thoughts, we rely on the use of conceptual knowledge stored in long-term memory. From a frame-theoretic point of view, a concept is represented by a central node and recursive attribute-value structures further specifying the concept. The present study explores whether and how the activation of an attribute within a frame might influence access to the concept's name in language production, focussing on the colour attribute. Colour has been shown to contribute to object recognition, naming, and memory retrieval, and there is evidence that colour plays a different role in naming objects that have a typical colour (high colour-diagnostic objects such as tomatoes) than in naming objects without a typical colour (low colour-diagnostic objects such as bicycles). We report two behavioural experiments designed to reveal potential effects of the activation of an object's typical colour on naming the object in a picture-word interference paradigm. This paradigm was used to investigate whether naming is facilitated when typical colours are presented alongside the to-be-named picture (e.g., the word "red" superimposed on the picture of a tomato), compared to atypical colours (such as "brown"), unrelated adjectives (such as "fast"), or random letter strings. To further explore the time course of these potential effects, the words were presented at different time points relative to the to-be-named picture (Exp. 1: -400 ms, Exp. 2: -200 ms, 0 ms, and + 200 ms). By including both high and low colour-diagnostic objects, it was possible to explore whether the activation of a colour differentially affects naming of objects that have a strong association with a typical colour. The results showed that (pre-)activation of the appropriate colour attribute facilitated naming compared to an inappropriate colour. This was only the case for objects closely connected with a typical colour. Consequences of these findings for frame-theoretic accounts of conceptual representation are discussed.