Transitive and periphrastic sentences affect memory for simple causal scenes


Can linguistic structures influence how people perceive and remember causal events? Using a change-detection method, we presented participants with direct causal scenes paired with either transitive (He stretched the toy) or periphrastic sentences (He made the toy stretch.) Participants then viewed movies with changes to the manner of action (stretching the toy with palms up vs. down), the result (stretching it a shorter vs. longer distance), or no change. Participants judged whether the two movies were identical. Reading periphrastic sentences made people more likely to notice a change in manner than a change in result. Reading transitive sentences had the reverse effect – participants were more likely to notice changes in result. This work provides an important advance in our understanding of how rich conceptual representations map into the grammatical structures of language. We discuss how this novel method can provide insight into the nonlinguistic representations recruited by particular sentence structures.

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