School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Ambiguity Research Laboratory

Please begin by answering the following question:

Question: What is the capital of the United States?

Answer: These days about $25.

Lab Pet

A very large proportion of common English words, such as capital, have multiple meanings which can lead to confusions as well as humor. The focus of research in my lab is on the factors that lead to the choice of meaning for such words, as well as the effects of recent experience on subsequent encounters with the ambiguous word.

A variety of semantic tasks are employed in the experiments we conduct. These include:

  • relatedness decision: decide as quickly and accurately as possible whether a pair of words are related to each other, e.g. bank River
  • sentence sensibility judgment: decide as quickly and accurately as possible whether this sentence makes sense or not, e.g. She typed up the plot.
  • word association: tell us the first word that comes to mind when you see, e.g. boxer

These studies are designed to evaluate a variety of theories that have been advanced in the literature including the activation-suppression model of Gernsbacher and St. John, the activation-inhibition view of Simpson, the contextual constraint view of Rayner, as well as other models including the investigator’s activation-selection model (ASM), see publications by Gorfein & Brown.

Actual data collection is conducted by undergraduates who serve as assistants without financial compensation to learn about research methods and often to decide if research is an appropriate career choice for them.