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Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2009 Jul;62(7):1377-88, 1388-90. doi: 10.1080/17470210802483834. Epub 2008 Dec 17.

The different representational frameworks underpinning abstract and concrete knowledge: evidence from odd-one-out judgements.

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  • 1Department of Neurodegeneration, Dementia Research Centre, Institute of Neurology, University College London, London, UK.


Recent evidence from neuropsychological investigations of individuals with global aphasia and deep or deep-phonological dyslexia suggests that abstract and concrete concepts are underpinned by qualitatively different representational frameworks. Abstract words are represented primarily by their association to other words, whilst concrete words are represented primarily by their taxonomic similarity to one another. In the current study, we present the first evidence for this association/similarity distinction to be gathered from healthy research participants. Using a semantic odd-one-out task, it is shown that normal participants identify associative connections more quickly than similarity-based connections when processing abstract words, but that the pattern is reversed for concrete words. It is also demonstrated that the typical concrete-word advantage observed in many cognitive tasks is abolished and even reversed when participants have to comprehend the semantic associations between words. The data provide converging evidence for the different representational frameworks hypothesis and suggest that claims based on information from previous neuropsychological investigations can be generalized to normal cognition.

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