Date of Completion

Spring 5-1-2018

Thesis Advisor(s)

Gerry T. M. Altmann

Honors Major

Cognitive Science


Cognitive Psychology | Psycholinguistics and Neurolinguistics


Mental representations of object states are necessary to keep track of changing objects in the world. When the object undergoes change and there are two representations, it creates competition between the object states. This is seen in sentences during which an object changes and is then subsequently referred to again (e.g. “The chef will chop the onion. And then, he will sniff the onion.”). When there is a larger degree of change between the states of the object, there is more competition, which is indicated by an increase in reading time when the object is referred to for the second time. The current study investigates how idioms can affect this process. It was hypothesized that, in cases in which an idiom can be interpreted literally but is then followed by a sentence that refers back to the object in a literal sense (e.g. “The man will break the ice. And then, he will transport the ice.”), the competition resolution would take longer than in a sentence with substantial literal changes. In addition it was hypothesized that sentences with objects that undergo substantial literal changes will have more competition than sentences with objects that undergo minimal literal changes. There was a significant difference in reading times at the critical point between the idiomatic condition and the substantial and minimal conditions, indicating that the longer reading time meant the reader took longer due to the reevaluation of the sentence’s literal meaning.