Inhibitory Control Supports Referential Context Use in Language Production and Comprehension


Using referential context in language (e.g., saying “blue pen” when two different-colored pens are visible) makes communication efficient. But it is still unclear which general cognitive processes support the use of context in conversation. Research on pragmatic use in language implicates working memory and inhibitory control; however, no studies have shown evidence of a shared cognitive mechanism in both production and comprehension within an individual. The current study asked a) whether referential context use is supported by the same cognitive mechanisms in production and comprehension, b) which processes are implicated, and c) whether the nature of the context itself affects processing. Participants completed a referential communication eye-tracking task in which a disambiguating adjective was either necessary or over-informative, as well as a cognitive test battery. The results implicated inhibitory control in both production and comprehension (although the comprehension results were more variable), suggesting a shared underlying cognitive mechanism across domains.

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