Dynamic Effects of Conceptual Combination on Semantic Network Structure


The generative capacity of language entails an ability to flexibly combine concepts with each other. Conceptual combination can occur either by using an attribute of one concept to describe another (attributive combination) or by forming some relation between two concepts to create a new one (relational combination). Prior research has addressed whether common or distinct processes support these two putatively different types of combinations. We turn the question around and ask whether the consequences of these combination types on our conceptual system might differ, by comparing semantic memory networks before and after participants perform either attributive or relational conceptual combinations. We find a general effect on the semantic networks: the structure of network decreases after participants conceptually combine some of the concepts in the network. However, the relational combination manipulation has a greater effect. Furthermore, only the relational combination manipulation leads to an increase in the network’s connectivity.

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