Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Wiemer-Hastings, Katja||Magliano, Joseph P.

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of Psychology


Spatial behavior; English language--Verb--Psychological aspects


Verbs that describe actions or events seem to be associated with spatial information. For example, “dropping” implies action flowing in a downward direction, and “raising” implies action flowing in an upward direction. Extending previous research, the first goal of this study was to test the hypothesis that spatial directionality is a salient feature of verb representations, and that concreteness influences this salience. The second goal of this study was to test the hypothesis that sensorimotor processes underlie the representation of verb directionality. One hundred twenty verbs were classified a priori with respect to the direction with which they are associated. These decisions were based on the direction of the flow of action, direction of stimulus detection in perception, information exchange, social dominance relationships, and emotion. This resulted in 30 verbs of each direction (i.e., upward, downward, leftward, rightward). Experiments 1 and 2 found that directionality is a salient feature of verb representations and that directionality is more salient for concrete than for abstract verbs. Using forced-choice and open-ended tasks, participants selected a direction that best depicted the meaning of each verb. As predicted, participants showed high agreement with the a priori classifications of verb direction (except for leftward verbs in Experiment 2) and agreement was higher for concrete verbs than abstract. Experiment 3 tested the hypothesis that sensorimotor processing is the source of verb directionality. Participants looked up or down while performing lexical decisions. It was predicted that reaction times would be faster when the head direction and verb direction matched than when they mismatched. The predictions were not supported. However, head direction interacted with verb direction differently (facilitation or interference) depending on whether or not head movements are associated with the verbs. The head direction primed the activation of verbs with consistent directionality when they do not have this association, and competed for resources when they do. These results suggest that spatial directionality is a salient feature of verb representations and that concreteness affects this salience. Spatial directionality appears to be a part of verb representations and to influence spatial judgments. In addition, sensorimotor processing may underlie verb directionality.


Includes bibliographical references (pages [136]-143).


ix, 159 pages




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