Processing negated bounded and unbounded expressions during reading: An eye movement investigation

Jayes, L. T. 1 , Blythe, H. I. 1 , Paterson, K. B. 2 & Liversedge, S. P. 1

1 University of Southampton
2 University of Leicester

The boundedness hypothesis suggests negated mental representations are sensitive to the semantic configuration of the negated entity. Bounded entities are categorical; only one state is possible so, when negated, a bounded entity must be interpreted as its antonym (not dead=alive). Unbounded entities possess a scalar ontology, with many states in between the antonyms; when negated they are ambiguous and can refer to multiple states (not wide does not equal narrow). To investigate online interpretation of bounded and unbounded negations, participants read passages with two statements from different characters describing a bounded/unbounded entity (Experiment 1). The two accounts were either a repetition (not dead-not dead), contradiction (not dead-not alive) or were complementary (alive-not dead). The unbounded contradictory condition disrupted reading to a lesser degree than bounded equivalents. Furthermore, unbounded complementary passages were more difficult to interpret than bounded equivalents, evidenced by increased disruption to reading. In Experiment 2, we found the addition of congruent connectives facilitated the integration of unbounded negation to a higher degree than bounded negation. These results provide the first demonstration of boundedness effects on eye movements in reading, and suggest representations of bounded entities are categorically discrete, whilst representations of unbounded entities are continuous.