Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Matthew W. Lowder


Previous research examining the processing of polysemous words presented in neutral sentence contexts has revealed conflicting results. Two different models attempt to explain these divergent patterns. The first predicts that the subordinate sense of an ambiguous word is more difficult to retrieve and process while the second predicts no differences in processing difficulty between the subordinate and dominant senses of ambiguous words. The current study tested the different predictions of these models by presenting sentences with polysemes in a neutral context. Critically, the sense relatedness of the polysemes and the sentence structure were held constant, while the sense frequency of the polysemes were carefully measured using corpus data. Reading time data suggest there was greater processing difficulty for the subordinate sense completions than the dominant sense completion. The magnitude of this dominance effect was not moderated by the strength of the dominant sense compared to the subordinate sense. Overall, the results suggest that readers initially retrieve the dominant sense of a polyseme leading to a processing cost when the sentence then resolves toward the subordinate sense.

Included in

Psychology Commons