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Int J Psychophysiol. 2013 Nov;90(2):135-42. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2013.06.015. Epub 2013 Jun 22.

How do taxonomic versus thematic relations impact similarity and difference judgments? An ERP study.

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Faculty of Psychology, Southwest University, Chongqing 400715, China; Key Laboratory of Cognition and Personality, Ministry of Education, Chongqing 400715, China; College of Psychology, Liaoning Normal University, Dalian 116029, China.


Taxonomically related concepts like "bee" and "butterfly" and thematically related concepts like "bee" and "honey" have different roles in similarity judgments. We examined the complex impact of taxonomic and thematic relations on similarity and difference judgments via ERPs in a S1-S2 paradigm. Subjects were required to remember a word denoting some object or animal (S1), and compare that to a second word (S2) that was either thematically related, taxonomically related or unrelated to S1, making a "high" or "low" similarity and difference judgments in separate blocks. We found two main differences that suggest thematic and taxonomic relations engage distinct neural processes. The first difference is an N400 effect peaking between 300 ms and 400 ms that is more negative for unrelated words than for thematically and taxonomically related words. The second difference is a frontally distributed P600 peaking between 500 ms and 600 ms that is larger for taxonomically related words than for both unrelated and thematically related words. These results suggest that the dual process model for perceiving similarity is superior to the comparison only model of similarity judgments, and furthermore, provide evidence that the thematic relations are dissociative from taxonomic relations in making similarity and difference judgments.


ERPs; N400; P600; Similarity judgment; Thematic relation

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