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The neural and cognitive bases of ambiguous and unambiguous conceptual combination

Bruett, Heather (2021) The neural and cognitive bases of ambiguous and unambiguous conceptual combination. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Conceptual representations can be altered to align with the current context given learning and task goals. One cognitive process, known as conceptual combination, allows for a unique perspective for exploring how complex conceptual processing occurs and how this processing influences the underlying representations of concepts. During novel nominal conceptual combination, two constituent nouns, a modifier noun (e.g., lemon) and a head noun (e.g., flamingo) are creatively combined to form a novel meaning (e.g., a lemon flamingo might be a yellow flamingo). Different strategies can be taken up by combiners - typically being either attributive (as above) or relational (e.g., a lemon flamingo is a flamingo that consumes lemons). Importantly, few studies have directly examined more ambiguous combinations, which are more complex to process, having an equal likelihood of being combined attributively or relationally between individuals. This dissertation addresses two main aims for understanding nominal conceptual combination through a series of four studies. First, it explores the pathways driving different kinds of conceptual combination. In Study 1, I examine how easily conceptual combinations can be formed and subsequently remembered. In Study 2, I explore how individual differences in cognition predict ease of combining. The second aim explores how conceptual combination differently impacts the representations of the constituent concepts. In Study 3, I address whether and how the cognitive representations of the head noun in a conceptual combination are altered because of being conceptually combined. Finally, Study 4 addresses both aims using neuroimaging to explore how different types of conceptual combinations are processed and how the neural representations of concepts are altered because of their combination. The findings show representational change due to conceptual combination in early visual processing regions of the brain and suggest that conceptual combination may rely on additional cognitive processes throughout the lifespan. There is also an emerging theme of the importance of cognitive control in the ease of combining. Finally, the findings show differences in the processing of different types of conceptual combinations, both between attributive and relational combinations and between unambiguous and ambiguous, advocating for the inclusion of ambiguous compounds in future studies of conceptual combination.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Bruett, Heatherheb52@pitt.eduheb520000-0001-8181-5938
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairCoutanche, Marc
Committee MemberFraundorf,
Committee MemberLucas, Heather
Committee MemberTokowicz,
Date: 8 October 2021
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 2 August 2021
Approval Date: 8 October 2021
Submission Date: 5 August 2021
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 111
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Psychology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: conceptual combination, semantic memory, concepts, creativity, individual differences, fMRI
Date Deposited: 08 Oct 2021 19:42
Last Modified: 08 Oct 2021 19:42


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