Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Eiling Yee, Gerry Altmann, James Magnuson, Marie Coppola

Field of Study

Psychological Sciences


Master of Science

Open Access

Open Access


In theories of grounded cognition, abstract concepts, like concrete ones, are grounded in our experiences with the world. However, rather than emphasizing the sensorimotoric aspects of our experience as they do for concrete concepts (e.g., coffee), grounded theories emphasize situational and internal factors for the representation of abstract concepts (e.g., decision). Despite some success in showing that situational and internal factors are important for abstract concepts, a mechanism by which such contextual factors are encoded and re-instantiated with the concept has yet to be elucidated. The present study sought to make headway on finding such a mechanism by using the source memory paradigm to determine whether we attend to episodic context more when processing abstract concepts as compared to concrete concepts. In Experiments 1 and 2, participants were presented with abstract and concrete words in a (red or green) colored box frame and performed a synonym judgment 1-back task at encoding. At retrieval, participants were better able to recognize the color of the frame for concrete than abstract concepts. In Experiment 3, the colored box frames were replaced with male and female voices, which participants were asked to recognize at retrieval. The same pattern of results emerged as in Experiments 1 and 2: participants were better able to recognize the speaker at encoding for concrete concepts than for abstract ones. Overall, the pattern of results suggests that the processing of concrete concepts is more sensitive to simple arbitrary episodic contextual detail. If representations of abstract concepts are indeed derived from situational context, the contexts may need to be more elaborate, temporally extended, or systematic than the simple associations examined here.

Major Advisor

Eiling Yee